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The art of dreaming: a reVision board

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“Every heroic adventure

begins with a vision,

a deep-rooted current experience

of what the future holds.”

Blood and Ethos*

You are glimpsing the beginning of my vision for last year.

In the cold and cozy days of January, I reacquainted myself with the idea of a vision board. This was a bold move on my part because I have had many visions for my life, I have pursued those visions fervently and many of those visions have come to fruition. It surprised me that many of those pursuits were not actually what I wanted, they were what I thought I was supposed to want and why I have to be so intentional about my consumption of social media. It is humbling to realize that those two things are easily confused in my heart. From years (a lifetime, actually) my pursuit of a vision for my life has mostly taught me what I did not want and even more importantly, what I did not need.

That would be a depressing collage to make.

Thanks to the world wide web, I was introduced to the lovely Rachel at Project Breathe and her post, Vision Boards: the right and wrong way to do them: http://projectbreathe.com.au/vision-boards/

In this article she shares the story of her marriage falling apart and realizing that she had nothing about her marriage on her vision board. As I look to the picture above (cut from the pages of a fantasy life) it is clear that there are some things I was wanting more of: dancing, romance, new places, water, travels, being unapologetic about my choices, realizing I had choices.

That’s some good stuff. I really did and do want that.

What this vision board did not capture is what was already in my life.

Of the many lessons on this journey, I must highlight this one: I can have almost anything I want. It sounds crazy and privileged to say it-and this girl who remembers the day my only pair of shoes broke and I had no shoes to wear to church so I stayed outside because I was so embarrassed, can hardly believe it- but it is true.

What is also true is that when I am holding one thing, I am not holding something else.

After accepting Rachel’s challenge, I began to look at what was in my life that I wanted to keep in my life and what was in my life that is only passing through for this season. Instead of looking at magazines, I looked at my real life and instead of cutting and pasting fantasy pictures on a page, I created a mural on a big blank wall in our apartment.

Included in the mural was an almost full-length mirror, a chalk board, artwork of a lamp with no shade, a winter wreath, a picture of our family dancing like freaks and our family’s motto for last year (We’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy. -Seal). Each item was full of meaning and symbolism but the mirror was intended to reflect our reality.

The things I saw reflected in that mirror took my breath away. Watching my kids practice for speeches or assess their changing appearance, seeing the impressive number of kids that could cram into that one room and play video games into the early morning, even reflecting what we were watching on TV and the way we treated each other. It was all a powerful resource for seeing what we already have and choosing our next steps based in what is real today.

A true vision for our future is only possible when we allow our reality to teach us, humble us, give to us and guide us.

Otherwise, we simply create a fantasy life in our heads that not only makes our reality disappoint and separates us from new choices we have the power to make, but it also keeps us from the beauty, fun and richness that can only be discovered when we are deeply grounded in our reality.

 

*Blood & Ethos: I am asking every one I know to read this little e-book. My brother-in-law was kind enough to share it with me. If you would like a copy, email me at jenniferwiseblack@gmail.com and I will send it to you along with some questions that I am asking myself based on the reading.

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The Art of Planning

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I am in love.

This tiny, simple, minimalistic yet comprehensive planner is making the process of scheduling, planning and looking ahead such a pleasure.

You would think I spent hours assessing my needs and comparing all of the planners in the world before choosing this perfect one, but all I did was see a beautiful display in Target. I was night shopping with my daughter and her friend. (Did you know this is a thing? Its wonderful. Calm, no lines, I am a fan.) Anyway, I flipped through about three versions and quickly chose this Cambridge Edition No. twenty seventeen.

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Last year I wanted a big planner with plenty of space to brainstorm, take notes, journal and reflect.

The Passion Planner was ideal for 2016. But this year, I wanted the physical space where I kept my schedule to be as realistic and manageable as possible. I wanted it to be able to fit into my smaller purse so that I could always have it with me and I wanted to have a concrete experience of how much time I actually have to plan. When I have planners where there is one page available per day the lists I can make and the expectations I can set seem endless.

And believe it or not, I am finite. I run out of room, time, energy and money.

This planner gets me.

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Let’s start with the monthly page.

Before the January tab there is a page laid out for November and December of 2016. Which means, I get to start using this planner NOW. And it’s perfect.

Instead of looking at the holidays as individual days that I get/have to do this or that, I will only be planning in the context of the entire month. THIS is my new secret weapon for enjoying Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe this is obvious to other people but I have a terrible habit of planning because we have an available day instead of understanding how each of those individual plans fits into our bigger picture. One of the reasons the holidays are hard for me because I love being with people and I need a lot of downtime. Once Thanksgiving hits it is possible for me to not have a minute to myself until the kids go back to school in January.

Last year, gratitude was my strategy for survival and it was immensely helpful. My focus shifted from focusing on materialism and gluttony to the kindness, generosity and community that was all around me. This Grinch’s heart got bigger and I was able to see and celebrate and enjoy the glad tidings but I didn’t yet understand that the constant stimulation of holiday wears me down to an ugly nub regardless of my perspective.

The first gift of Christmas 🎄 is this calendar giving me one page per month. This is the gift that keeps on giving because this idea has challenged me to change the way I schedule the rest of my year. Here is the idea: I will attempt to schedule/plan on my monthly calendars. I am going to experiment with not filling out my weekly calendar pages until I get to that week. The monthly pages will represent my plan, a look at the big picture, context of commitment as well as the ability I have to choose how to spend my time. (A woman charts her course…)

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Each week I will turn to these fresh, clean, un-scribbled and un-scratched out pages and fill them in with the true happens of the week (…and God directs her path). These pages don’t start for me until the day after Christmas which matches our schedule perfectly.

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For the whole year, we have 2017 on two pages. This is for the big stuff: birthdays, graduations, vacations, business trips and crazy things like my kid’s first day of college. I have never used a page like this before, I am a take it a week at a time girl so this is going to stretch me.

It’s an amazing thing to get to know yourself and come to terms with your reality. My appreciation of systems has often overshadowed my actual ability to fit inside of them. It feels really good to chose a system based on how I think, how I best function and choose my plan knowing how and where I need the most support.

What have you learned about yourself that affects the way you plan?

Do you use a planner?

A calendar?

What drives your day? A schedule? A list? A plan? Whatever comes up?

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Friday: Margin

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I used to live in an imaginary world.

It was a world where appointments could be scheduled back to back, where a meeting on the other side of town was possible in the middle of the day. Showers, getting dressed into real clothes and eating were somehow going to magically happen even though I had no plan or time allotted for them. I didn’t even have room for essentials, much less the inevitable problems or possible opportunities that might present themselves. I was scheduled to the brim.

On Fridays, my kids get out of school early. This used to be one more slot I thought I could schedule but now I keep it open specifically for margin. If my week works as I plan it, then Fridays are for fun, for errands, for a spontaneous coffee date. This week did not work as I planned. Several really neat opportunities opened up to me and I jumped in with both feet–I am so happy I did. Because of this, I got behind on some writing and the laundry. It was wonderful to know that I had this morning available just for this kind of make-up work.

As I mentioned during the 30 Days of Rest, as best I can, I do plan for and schedule my essentials (what I know I need). Now, I actually have time set aside to prepare food, blow dry my hair and clean the house. This is such a discipline for me. One of my personality’s primary weaknesses (according to the enneagram) is pride. It is not pride in the “I am better than you” kind of way, it is pride because my default is to opperate from a belief that I don’t need as much as everyone else does and I have more to give than everyone else does. Of course, this awareness also lines up with entering my 40’s–an age when my body, mind and heart are gently asking me to slow down, to let me fill up before I pour out.

Margin is intentional empty space on my calendar waiting to be filled with the unexpected. Unexpected things that have entered this space this week include a porch visit with my neighbor, a little visit with my parents, an important conversation with one of my coffee moms, a trip to the bank and the grocery store, a television shoot, a dinner party with friends, attending a student performance, helping my kids with their school work, making Thanksgiving plans, getting Christmas lists organized…

So much of the juice of life is in the unexpected. I love having time in my life for my life, making room for the chaos that is intrinsic to having a family while still having a structure in place to get things done. Who knows what any of this will look like through the holidays? Maybe I need a holiday schedule.

It makes me happy to think of approaching the holidays with this appreciation of margin: celebratory space waiting to be filled with the unexpected.

May you curate margin in your day and enjoy the subtle shift of anticipating the unexpected.

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Thursday: Office

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Thursdays are my day in the office.

The administrative aspects of life require the most discipline of me which is why, in addition to seeing clients, I also spend time on Thursdays doing classic office kind of things: administration, emails, schedule, lists, phone calls, future plans. I don’t do any kind of reading, research or writing on these days-that is too deep for me on days that I see clients. I do, however, feel capable of managing some of that shallow work that doesn’t take too much of my brain but MUST be done. I am rekindling a relationship with my to-do list and this is a good day of the week to check some things off.

For the most part, Thursdays are dedicated to meet one-on-one with clients in this cozy little office. When I am meeting with someone my goal is to be as present as possible. Sometimes I need to prepare for these sessions, often I have notes that I need to record after sessions, but for the actual time we are meeting, I try to be as there as I can be, with my whole self.

What does it mean to be present?

During a training I attended last winter, we did a guided meditation where we had to think of someone we did not have a complicated relationship with. A relationship where we did not feel any judgement or criticism toward or from the other. All of us were struggling to find that person so finally the moderator suggested our dog, or a bird, or a tree. We laughed. Nature is so generous to us, accepting us just as we are. He asked us to sit in that feeling of just being with someone/thing–not needing to change them or us, simply seeing and noticing and enjoying that feeling.

When I am in pain or when I am with someone who is in pain, I want to fix it, don’t you? I have spent a lifetime collecting tools to help me with my pain, to help you with your pain. I want to help! I want to make it better! It has been the most ironic discovery to understand that I can’t help until I stop trying to help. The best gift I can give anyone, including myself, is time and space to be right where we are, to learn from life as it is revealing itself to us and to trust that something bigger is at work before, during and after our unknown next step.

May you sit in the presence of something or someone who accepts you just as you are and enjoy every second.

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Wednesday: Connect

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After two days of staying focused and productive, I wake up Wednesday mornings ready to see some friendly faces. Wednesdays are the day of the week that I regulaly meet with one to three groups. One of these groups is a Mom’s coffee group. It is technically called the Tuesday Coffee because my daughter told me our group text needed a name and we used to meet on Tuesdays but we all have a lot of moving parts so each week we check in to see the morning that will work for most of us. In the late morning, I attend a study that deepens my spiritual practice and in the afternoon, I am a part of a professional development group.

Coffee Group: This is a small group of women who are in the same developmental phase of life as I am. Our kids are all friends and I love their kids as if they were my own. We cry together, laugh together, get some perspective together and remind each other we are not going crazy, we are just parenting teenagers. This is my support group for the specific challenges of this phase of life. This group came about organically because we were already doing life together through our kid’s lives.

Spiritual Formation: This is a group where I practice what I know and what I am learning. It is a time set aside for me to not be an expert, to practice being myself in both nurturing and provoking circumstances. This is a place where I expose myself to ideas, beliefs and values that are different from my own. I call it Cross-fit for the soul. I was invited to join this group by a friend of mine.

Professional Development Group: Everyone in this group was a stranger to me before I walked into my first meeting. We all have the same goal–to develop our professional skills. This is a non-judgmental atmosphere where we are being critiqued and challenged by our peers to help us meet our own goals. After evaluating what skills I needed to pursue future goals, I did some exploring online and found this group through Meetup.com.

I cannot and do not attend each of these groups every week, but when I have the opportunity to participate they are my priority. These groups are my intentional community and they provide me with avenues to grow and to contribute just by showing up. Picking up of off yesterday’s post, Wednesdays are my day to spend some time in the coffee shop and/or the conference room.

According to the online etymology dictionary, the word community comes from Old French comunité “community, commonness, everybody,” and Latin communitatem “community, society, fellowship, friendly intercourse; courtesy, condescension, affability,” from communis “common, public, general, shared by all or many.”

(http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=community)

While I am always encouraged by realizing we are all in the same boat, these relationships have also reavealed to me how very different we are. We each experience life through the lens of our own experience and I am humbled by how much we have to learn from each other.

May you find a community where you can grow and contribute.

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Tuesday: Deep Work

 

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Have I told you about the Eudamonia Machine* yet?

It is an imaginary place that has been designed to facilitate deep work.

This building is five rooms deep and you can only enter each room through the previous room. In the first part of the building you visit a gallery where you get to view what the human mind has created-works of art, new technology, advances in medicine. Next, you enter a coffee shop where you can sit and discuss/debate ideas with others. After that you go into a library where you can find the books, the research, the manuals to learn more about these ideas or to begin to create your own ideas. Then you go into a conference room where you sit around a big table with dry erase boards and sticky notes and you brainstorm, create, delegate with a team. Finally you enter the deep work chambers which are sound proof rooms for one person to go into for up to 90 minutes at a time and write, think, and integrate ideas.

The Gallery: If I think of my brain as a facility, I spend a lot of time in the Gallery. Most of my enjoyment of the internet, social media, magazines, television, books, and music are essentially seeing what other people have created.

The Coffee Shop: This is a natural place for me to want to hang out because I love people, coffee and lively discussions. That part of my brain feels well-fed as long as I enter these conversations wanting to learn something new.

The Library: If I am not careful, the library can be another version of the Gallery for me but the design of this facility challenges me to enter the library not only as a consumer but as a thinker. Picking up books right out side of my comfort zone, noticing the new ideas that are popular or being published stretches these rooms in my brain. Researching ideas, words, reasoning it’s like scratching an itch I forgot I had.

The Conference Room: Even though I love doing collaborative work, I love meetings, I love learning new things, putting together new ideas and doing it all with a very small group of stimulating people, time in The Conference Room does not naturally find it’s way in my schedule (more about this tomorrow).

The Deep Work Chambers: All of this is to tell you that TUESDAY is my day for entering into deep work. In the past, I would think that I could do this kind of work from home or at a coffee shop, but now, I find a small room in the library, turn off all of my internet access and stay with the blank document in front of me. If I try to do this from home I find myself pulled out of the challenging, often painful, process of digging into those deep crevices in my brain, into the shallow work that is floating all around me. Suddenly there is nothing I would rather do than return that email, take out the trash, choose this moment to clean out the bathtub…nevermind, I will just check instagram.

As I have experimented with each of these rooms this past year, I found that The Deep Work Chambers was exactly like that dream where you find a room filled with all of these random items you didn’t know existed. It’s the best dream. The room never looks like you want it to, but it has potential and you know just what you want to do with it now that you know where it is.

If my week works the way I’ve planned for it to go (which happens about once a month, by the way) then I have all of the major chores done on Monday which frees me up to dive into some deep work on Tuesday. Off I go…

 

May you discover some new rooms in yourself that open up new worlds to you today.

 

*All of this is from that wonderful book, Deep Work by Cal Newport. So, So Good.

 

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Monday: Home

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I love Monday Mornings. I love them. Mondays are my days for getting our essentials in order. My focus for today is HOME.

One of the things I have learned about myself is that I do much better when focusing an entire day on one thing instead of doing an hour or 15 minutes here or there to try to stay on top of everything (on laundry, dishes, decluttering, etc).

My brain does not work that way. My brain needs me to tell it what we are going to do and stay stay stay on that one thing.

If I am focused, with no interruptions and nothing else scheduled for the day, I can move mountains (of laundry, dishes and trash). Usually, I make this fun by listening to an audio book, spotify or having netflix on in the background. Today, while I am cleaning, I am going to be listening to the Unit 3 lecture of the course I am taking online.

It will take the entire day to get all of our laundry done. The fridge and the pantry need cleaning out. I need to see what we have in there that needs to be chopped up, cooked up, and used up before I make our grocery list.

Here are some of my favorite resources for Mondays:

Clean Mama (cleanmama.net): I know…I said that I don’t like doing a little bit of housework everyday. I don’t follow her schedule, but I love everything about this-the design, the pictures, the simplicity. Her chores for the week are my chores for Monday.

The Fresh 20 (thefresh20.com): A friend told me about this a few years ago and it is exactly what I need. 20 fresh ingredients each week=5 meals. The grocery list is already made out for me. If we don’t like a specific ingredient, I have alternatives we do like. For example, if the recipe calls for shrimp, we replace it with sausage. Even if I don’t make her recipes, I can get creative with the ingredients she has organized instead.

Audio Books (audible.com): This author/reader is wonderful to listen to while doing housework. It’s like doing jobs around the house with an amazing storyteller to keep me company.

Seasonal Playlists (Spotify): My kids have been trying to talk me into Spotify for awhile now and I have become a fan. Really enjoying this playlist for fall.

TV Shows (netflix/amazon prime): Current favorite show is Royal Pains. Its lighthearted, the characters make me happy and I don’t have to really pay attention but it keeps me entertained while I am doing dirty work.

Another thing I have learned is that I would much rather write about chores than do them! So, off I go to do my Monday work.

May your Monday motivate you to get done what you must (or really want to) do today.