Time to Think

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I was thinking about thinking.

It wasn’t in an idle moment, staring out the window or at the wall. It was while I was practicing piano.

At first I rejected the experience. “You’re not supposed to think while you play piano,” I reasoned. “It’s like meditation. You’re supposed to just play, just be.”

But then I noticed it happen, again and again. Not active thinking (“What should I make for lunch today?”), but passive thinking (images of that one time I said that stupid thing).

My piano practice sessions, currently around 2 hours a day, are filled with passing images and impressions. While I play music and concentrate deeply (because I AM concentrating), these images come and go, a constant slideshow. I don’t pay much attention. My attention is on the music. But I started thinking about it afterward.

My mind is doing all of this vital processing while I’m practicing piano. Kind of like how your mind processes your life via sleep and dreams – my piano practice sessions are an extension of that.

Life is full of difficult, complex problems. The kind that can’t be solved in five minutes. Where should I live? Should I travel or settle down? Should I have another child? What would be the best living environment for my current child? Should I chase that crazy dream? How would it play out in reality? I’m swimming in these problems, just like everyone else.

These problems need time to stew and simmer and bubble. I think about them actively sometimes, but mostly I just let them run in the background. Like when I’m practicing piano. All my problems, major and minor, cycle in the background when I’m engaged in other, more physical, actions.

I thought about other times my thoughts simmer. When I’m doing yoga. I’m breathing, I’m in my body, I’m in the moment, and yet I’m aware of all these background processes in my mind’s system. Floating on by, barely noticeable unless I go looking for them.

Going for walks without audiobooks or podcasts. Sitting in a waiting room without a phone. Driving a car without listening to anything. Observing my daughter play. Taking a shower. The time it takes to fall asleep.

These are precious pockets.

This weekend I had an entire day to myself, since Michael took our daughter to the lake with his family. It was a rare treat. By the end of the day, my mind was feeling so loose and free. Unwound. The day was spent in simple pursuits – piano, a creative project, some songwriting, yoga, lots of reading – but those simple pursuits gave my mind some space. Some air. I was alive in the doing, full of ideas, and so completely relaxed from it.

I’ve been thinking about how we cram the seconds of our day with input. How output is important, like writing this post or tinkering with songwriting. But also how important the space between input and output is. How the simmering of your mental soup makes for a delicious life.

As the day wore on and I pleasantly unwound, I realized how I tend to pack my days with doing, with input. Podcasts on walks and drives and when I cook. I love podcasts, they connect me and light me up. But what about a little silence sometimes? I thought about my tendency to pull out my laptop at night and get in a little more work, instead of having a short yoga session. How hard it is to practice piano sometimes, but how it ends up being the best spice of all for my mind.

I thought about how I used to be. Teenager Allysia, early-20s Rock Band Allysia. I was open, I was unwound. I didn’t stuff my life with doing. I didn’t even get a smartphone until I was 24. I was art, art, art.

My life is better now, and I’m much happier in my 30s than I was in my 20s. My life is consistently getting more enjoyable. While I tend to don the rose-colored glasses for my past, I have to remind myself that, though I was art, I was also untethered.

But my fondness for the past isn’t for the drama and shenanigans of being young. It’s for the way I used to think. Open, free, with room to roam. Now, a decade later, I have to remind myself to let my mind out of its box once in a while. To come out to play.

I can’t blame smartphones for everything, and I can’t blame growing up. There’s no blame at all. It’s just change. If I could have the open mind of my old self, and the good sense of my new self, then that would really be something. I can paint a square. I can make the time.

-Allysia

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Being a Parent is Terrifying

When I was much younger, I used to get panic attacks. I felt a clawing anxiety about things I couldn’t understand or control. Darkness, the world “out there” with people, fierce summer storms – all these were triggers.

I haven’t had a panic attack in many years, and as horrible as they were, they don’t compare to the gut-level anxiety that comes with having a child.

In our childless days, I would worry about my husband. Any time he had to trek to work on icy or stormy highways, any time he made longer voyages, cross-country or otherwise. I would worry that I’d never see him again. Not a consuming worry, just like a switch that would sometimes flip while I was doing the dishes or a yoga pose. I’d have the thought (what if he dies?), push it away, and carry on.

After having a child, I look back on this worry as laughably elementary. I still don’t want him to die, of course, but now if the two of them leave the house, he’s not the one I worry about. If he burns himself on a pan and spills a bit of hot sauce on the floor (as happened yesterday), my first instinct is to make sure our daughter is far away and unhurt. My distant second instinct is to see if he’s okay (he was).

The first time Jane was sick, when she was around 6 months old, I barely slept. She just had a regular cold and a small fever, but I listened to her breathe all night. Was she getting enough air? Is she breathing too fast? Is she going to wake herself up with all that snorting? I wonder if she needs medicine?

The first time (and only time – so far!) that she had a high fever, I stayed awake all night while she slept restlessly. I watched her sleep, I counted her breaths, I called the health nurse, I gave her Tylenol, I waited an eternity for the morning to (get my husband to) take her to the hospital.

Because taking your child to the hospital is terrifying. But Michael isn’t terrified; he’s unflappable. So he took her in while I lay in bed, trying to get an hour or two of sleep, but just worrying instead.

She was fine, it was nothing serious. Still, I clung to her tightly when she came home. This little lump that I love so much.

And then the first time (and only time) she caught a stomach bug. Michael was away, because the Fates have it that he tends to be away when she gets sick. It was bedtime and we were cuddling to sleep. She coughed, and I felt weirdly wet and warm. So I turned on the light, and we were both covered in vomit. I cleaned us up, changed our clothes, changed the bedding. Half an hour later, again. Half an hour later, again. I got wise to the routine and we started sleeping on towels. I lay with her all night, drifting into 15-minute pockets of restless sleep, to be woken to the sound of pre-vomit. I became skilled in jumping to the rescue with a towel to preserve her jammies.

I’d grab some fresh towels and nurse her. She nursed all night. I was afraid of her getting dehydrated. We made it to the morning and she was already much better. But all night long, the merry-go-round of terror.

If anything happens to a child in a movie, or commercial, or a story on the news, I can’t bear it. I cry. It’s too much. I don’t listen to the news at all if I can help it. Michael told me a story once and I haven’t been able to wash it out of my head. The story comes back to me and turns my stomach, hurts my insides. I never want to hear a story like that again.

We were watching A Quiet Place for the second time. In the movie’s intro, we looked at each other with tears in our eyes. Is there anything more terrifying than the thought of losing a child?

On a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis, toddlers and babies are so demanding of time, attention and energy. I’m not always (read: seldom ever) bursting with gratitude and lovebeams. I don’t spend my often-monotonous days as a parent in a blissful reverie, as much as I’d like to. It’s hard work. I try to be patient, I try to be pleasant, but sometimes I’m annoyed and tired.

Despite this, I feel a love on a deep, primal level like I’ve never felt before. Back in my panic attack days, I feared my own fragile mortality. But that seems like nothing now. I would give my life for hers in a heartbeat, without question. Now her life is the thing I most fear losing. Not mine, not my husband’s.

Is it biology? Is it how parents are programmed?

That visceral love is terrifying because it leaves you vulnerable. A sappy commercial can break you into a million pieces. Your child getting sick can crack open all your deepest fears.

I need to practice a new vigilance, a vigilance against allowing this terror to chronically encroach on my life. To allow her the freedom to grow and experience the world away from me. To not get in her way out of a desperate need to keep her safe. To hold myself together if she falls ill or gets injured, for her sake.

Before having a child, I remember fantasizing about the experience – what my life would be like, the funny things she’d do, seeing my husband be a father, and all the love. I didn’t fathom the terror in those dark corners of 2am, helpless against it all. Where you can do nothing but pray. I get why people pray. I really do.

-Allysia

 

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The Most Important Things in Life

I have a wonderful friend who inspired me with today’s post. He shared a list of his – a sort of “life philosophies” list, a list of things to keep in mind – and it’s been on my mind all week. I wanted to create my own list, print it, and put it somewhere I’ll see often.

My list has several similarities with his (he had some great ideas!), but I went deep and thought about what the most important things are in life (to me), some rules of thumb, and questions to ask myself.

I’ll share this list here today in the hopes that it’ll inspire you to create your own or reflect on your own priorities.

Hope you enjoy it!

The most important things in my life

1. Honesty

2. Having the confidence and courage to express that honesty.

3. Energy. This means taking care of my health and body with diet and exercise, taking care of my mind with frequent ideas and input, and taking care of my heart with the things which fill my cup.

3a. Diet and exercise: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (Michael Pollan). The exercise that I enjoy best is daily walks interspersed with occasional sports (like tennis), yoga and HIIT.

3b. An energetic mind: My mind functions best when it receives plenty of input, such as by reading many non-fiction books and listening to interesting podcasts. Ancillary to this is having frequent interesting conversations with people.

3c. Filling the cup: Things that make me feel whole and fulfilled include time spent with loved ones, writing music or working on other creative endeavors, writing, and having a little space in my life to breathe and not “do”.

4. Marriage. Continually reinforce this bond with random acts of kindness, interesting conversations, and weekly dates. Prioritize my marriage, especially over tasks that seem important but aren’t (like checking emails).

5. Time. Time is one of my most precious resources, and all of my decisions should take this into account. Am I making the most of my time? Am I organized and efficient? Do I have enough time for the things that matter most (relationships, fun, personal development, creative projects)?

6. Relationships with others (children, family, close friends). Be thoughtful and giving. Remember and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Have meaningful conversations that strengthen our bonds. Be a non-judgemental safe space.

7. Autonomy. Prioritize having freedom and control in my life and work. 

8. Money. Increase revenue (to create more time and autonomy), decrease expenses, and make investments.

9. Reverence. Take time to appreciate the beauty and sacredness of life. Step out of the ordinary and remember the extraordinary.

10. Learning and knowledge. Along with health, relationships, and passion projects, learning/knowledge make my life rich and fulfilling.

11. Passion projects. Pursue creative passions and projects without fear. 

 

Rules of thumb

1. Never have my phone at the table. 

2. Eat meals with my family whenever possible.

3a. Before speaking, run my words through three filters: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

3b. Don’t engage in gossip or negative talk about others.

3c. Complaints are seldom if ever necessary. 

4a. Limit/moderate spending on non-essential things (makeup, clothing, impulse purchases, take-out)

4b. Spend freely (within reason) on things which contribute to my personal and professional growth (books, courses, exams, membership groups)

5. Remember to breathe and slow down. Stop and smell the roses.

6. Listening to music enriches my life, so don’t be lazy about it.

7. Prioritize sleep (7-8 hours). 

8a. Ask questions about others instead of talking about myself.

8b. Don’t be afraid to share my opinions and viewpoints in a non-aggressive manner.

8c. Don’t allow opinions and viewpoints to become my personality, which creates rigidity. Be open and willing to consider another point of view. 

9. Don’t wear sweatpants or leggings-as-pants outside the home (exception is wearing leggings to the gym).

10. Take good care of my possessions so they last longer.

11. Make simple decisions in 5 minutes or less (ie what to eat for dinner).

12. Allow myself and others the ability to make mistakes without judgment or criticism.

13. Take the time to cook nice meals, even if they’re simple and quick.

 

Questions

1. How can I have more fun with this?

2. How can I be more social with this?

3. What would 10x my results?

4. Who are five people who have what I want?

5. Is this the most important/best use of my time?

6. What can I learn from this experience?

7. Can I learn more by doing a 30-day trial on this subject?

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HOUSE TOUR: Small town, small house, lots of plants!

Even though we’ve lived at this house for 5 years, it’s not too late for a house tour – right? We’ll be making some changes in the next year, so I thought it’d be fun to take you around our space, which we’re very proud of.

P.S., we didn’t clean or tidy before this video, so what you see is real life! 🙂

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