Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sanity Challenge Check-In


So it's been just over two weeks since I accepted Cheryl Harris' "Sanity Challenge."  As a quick refresher, the challenge was to write about specific goals that we could set for ourselves to make the holidays "happier, healthier, and more sane."  Always the overachiever, I chose just one goal: to set aside 15 minutes each day to read something that is not on a computer screen.  And just so you know, I'm not being sarcastic.  Teasing apart just one goal from the tangle of shoulds, coulds, and woulds in my head was quite a tall order.  My natural tendency is to multi-task and keep moving, so to set a goal that I would stop for 15 minutes each day and focus on just one activity was actually expecting quite a lot.

After all, how much personal growth can you expect from setting a goal that's easily within reach?

The day that I published the post outlining my goals was actually the same day my family flew in from Michigan to visit.  I had taken the week off of work and was going to stay with my family at their timeshare.  Going through the growing stack of books I've been meaning to read, I carefully chose a couple to bring with me.  While we had a lot planned between visiting with friends and family over the next seven days, there were also whole mornings, afternoons, or evenings where nothing was planned at all.  Surely I would be able to set aside time each day to read at least 15 minutes, if not more.

But as it turns out, even 5 minutes of sitting still and reading a book was proving to be quite difficult.  My mind would wander, I would start tinkering with my phone, or I would have to stop myself midway down a page because I was trying to read too fast.  At one time, if the choice was between a digital and a hard copy, I would always choose the latter.  But times have definitely changed, and my mind now prefers to be served information via the internet.  Quick and easy to digest like simple carbs.

While I was dismayed, I wasn't discouraged.  I recognized that my mind's preference was directly related to its waning exposure to the written word.  So if reading for more than 5 minutes was what I wanted, I would have to put myself in the situation of reading printed material more often.  And I would have to be more patient with myself and the process.

Baby steps.

So rather than continue to try reading for 15 minutes or more in one sitting, I started to break it up into 4 or 5 minutes segments, so cumulatively I would be reaching my goal each day.  And rather than just reading one book or one article, I read a variety of things.  A few pages of the books I brought with me, inserts to CDs and DVDs, ingredient labels, periodicals, restaurant menus, and road signs.  

Road signs?  Really?  Yes, really.  Think about it next time you roll up to a STOP sign.  Are you actually reading the sign or are you just reacting to the shape, size, color, and placement of it?  As a young child, I remember trying to stop reading, frustrated with the fact that I couldn't help it.  When I saw words, I automatically read them, and that annoyed me for some reason.  Who would ever have thought that I would get my wish nearly three decades later?

It's ironic and so fitting that the book I've been steadily making my way through with a majority of those 15 minutes each day is Joyful Wisdom by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master.  In the opening chapter he talks about how at first he was not good at meditating.  His mind was constantly buzzing, and the more he sought to quiet it, the more noise he encountered.  But eventually, he came to embrace the 'noise' and the 'buzz,' seeing them no longer as hindrances but as evidence of the mind's limitless power.  Instead of seeing the mind an enemy and trying to shut it out, he began to listen to it and learn from it.  And in using "the problem as the antidote," in his mind he found a great ally and teacher.

And so it is with my current challenge of reading the written word.  I'm not doing great, but I am doing my best.  And every day brings improvements, whether it's reading longer, finding more focus, or looking forward to my 'quiet time' rather than trying to talk myself out of it.  It reminds me that even in the midst of my decidedly busy life, I still need to make time to stop: to breathe, to reflect, and to appreciate.  It reminds me that I am continually changing and that there will always be more to learn about myself.  And it reminds me how powerful stillness can be, when one can truly embrace life instead of trying to outrun it.

With just a few days remaining until we reach 2012, I hope you will also be able to find time to stop and be in the moment.  Not because you have to, but because you can.

Things worth having are rarely had with ease.  And in that difficulty and rising to the challenge, you have your true reward.  Keep reaching.

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Big thanks and props to Cheryl Harris for beginning the Sanity Challenge.  Please visit her page as well as the pages of other contributing bloggers for more sanity-seeking, goal-setting, and compassion-embracing.

4 comments:

  1. Happy New Year, Jonathan! I struggled with my challenge too...I definitely skipped my 5 minutes during my travels, although I'm back to it now. But I think you're right...a lot of it is just practice. Glad you're taking the time to appreciate the written word. Seems like printed books will one day be relics, but I for one hope that day is far in the future.

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  2. I'm glad you're back to your 5 minutes as well. With as busy as you and I like to keep ourselves, I know that that 5 minutes can seem like an eternity. But once we get over the shock of stillness, it's really a beautiful thing. :)

    Happy New Year, Iris!

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  3. Great post! That sounds like an interesting book. I'm quite sure I just react to shapes rather than reading signs--I will have to pay more attention next week.

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  4. Thanks, Cheryl! It is a wonderful book. You can open it to any page and read something pertinent and eye-opening. Definitely recommended.

    Happy New Year!

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Thank you so much for visiting The Canary Files. I hope you have enjoyed what you have read and seen. Your feedback is valuable to me and I read and reply to every single comment. So sincere thanks in advance for sharing not only your thoughts, but your time as well.

All the Best,
Jonathan

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