“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” ~ Maya Angelou
You want to know how I transitioned from a manic depressive, stressed, single, copywriter woman in Austin into an expat teacher, wife, mother, writer and fabulous world traveller?
At 22, fresh out of college, I started working full-time at the ad agency where I’d been working part-time for years. At 23, disillusioned and depressed, I quit and took a cross-country leap of faith. I had faith in California—San Francisco to be exact.
And in the Bay Area, I did meet the Buddha. I did discover Zen. I also fell in love with Jesus. Problems ensued; we broke up. I was broke and had to crawl my way back to my advertising career. I half-heartedly tried to kill myself, failed, moved back to Austin, miserable.
I still had a lot of lessons to learn.
At 29, I moved to Guatemala for a change of pace and culture. And change I got.
Guatemala gave me the luxury of solitude; time to myself, time by myself. I suddenly had no family or social obligations, and I’d traded in my stressful public elementary school job for a sweet gig at a prestigious, country club of a private school.
Way far away from all the people and patterns of my past, and with more free time than I knew what to do with, I had the gift of a clean slate. I changed my daily habits. I started practicing lots more yoga and meditation at home. I had time to throw dinner parties and teach yoga in my living room and cook and eat meals slowly. Time for mindfulness and metta to infiltrate my daily life.
When I find myself in times of trouble (falling into past patterns, feeling depressed, manic, or bipolar or anxious), I rely on these practices to help balance me out. When I’m feeling happy and centered, I practice them too. May they be of benefit.
1. I yoga.
If you yoga too, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t tried yoga by now, you might be turned off by its popularity, commercial aspects, New Agey image and/or cost.
I implore you: do yoga. There are a zillion styles out there, and you can find one or mix and match the ones that best fit you.
I am not saying I practice asana and pranayama for two hours a day. Some days, I’m lucky to get in a downward dog for two minutes before the kid starts crying, or it’s time to go to work, or whatever. But usually, I practice for at least 20 minutes, at least once a day.
Go to a class; practice at home. Find what works for you and get to it.
2. I meditate.
Mindfulness and Vipassana are my favorite flavors, but as with yoga, there are a zillion techniques of meditation. It all comes down to finding out which work best for you and then taking a quiet seat. Raise your consciousness, change your life, and make the world better.
3. I walk.
So much better than driving. Of course, I have designed my life to occur in a place where walking (or biking) most everywhere is possible, probable and enjoyable.
4. I listen to music.
Both natural and man made. I listen to the sound of the water lapping at the lake shore. I listen to the insects and owls at night and the songbirds at dawn. I listen to Miles Davis and Dave Matthews, Fela Kuti and Norah Jones, Regina Spektor and Mozart and so much more. Music is therapeutic.
5. I write.
Journals, diaries, lesson plans, blog posts, essays, poems, lists, anything! I write down the bones, and it helps me immeasurably to process life and express my inner creativity. I also write for elephant, and you should too!
6. I give gratitude, kindness, compassion and love.
In the morning, I give thanks for another day of this miracle of life. My daily intention is to be kind, compassionate and loving toward all beings, including myself. Of course I go through negative emotions, too, and judgements, and pettiness, but practicing metta and highlighting the good stuff for which I am grateful is key.
7. I eat mindfully.
At meals, I give thanks for the food and all the elements (sun, rain, soil, seeds, etc.) and all the people who helped it make its way to my table.
8. I teach.
I teach yoga, mindfulness, English, writing, reading and sometimes a little math. I am a teacher by profession, and it is one of my proudest passions. I aim to teach my students (of all ages) how to think clearly and critically, how to be mindful and kind, rather than what to think or what to do. Teaching in this way is a precious gift for both the teacher and student.
9. I learn.
I read. I talk to people and instead of tuning out their answers, I really listen. I learn by practicing yoga and meditation and mindfulness. I learn from books and friends and experience.
10. I let go.
I let go of hardened, hollow beliefs. I let go of certainty, of a sense of completion or arrival. I will always have a lot of lessons to learn. It’s an ongoing process with no final destination, no end other than death, (if that).
Special thanks to Mister Jon, whose insanely awesome breakfasts inspired the title of this post.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Christy Correll at Flickr