On birth and climbing mountains

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A couple of weekends ago I was talking about labor and birth with a friend when she told me she wouldn’t consider my labor as having gone well. This was coming from one of my best friends, and was not meant to be offensive in any way. And I wasn’t offended; I recognized immediately that- as is the case with all experiences of life- someone who’s experienced something is the only person who can truly understand that experience. And, really, between the extreme sleep deprivation of labor, the tremendous hormonal shifts, the strange mental space of ‘laborland,’ and the involvement of numerous other people, it seems that a lot of women have a hard time remembering their birth experience, much less “understanding” it in any way. But if there’s a chance of anyone understanding it, it’s that woman.

My friend’s comment came at an interesting moment for me, now about 6 months postpartum; For about the past month and a half, I have felt like I am starting to forget parts of my birth experience. Details that had felt so clear suddenly feel fuzzy. I have wondered if I handled it all with any semblance of grace and calm in the challenging moments. Small doubts have crept in about whether or not my perception of my labor and birth experience match the reality of how things unfolded.

And there’s the kicker. Ultimately, no matter how many details get fuzzy or how many doubts creep in, no matter who else was involved and what they say or think about my labor, what truly defines my experience of birth is just that: my experience-my internal experience-of giving birth. Because external factors are very much out of a birthing woman’s control: anyone could tell you that birth never goes according to plan, and babies have a journey of coming into the world that is unknown to even the person they are living inside of. So, what matters is how the woman feels about it all as she goes forward in processing the birth of her baby.

So, when my friend said she wouldn’t consider my labor as having gone well, I was taken aback. Because I would consider it as having gone well and count it as one of the best experiences of my lifetime. But the conversation got me thinking and reflecting and stewing just a little bit.

“50 hours of labor??” she said. “I wouldn’t say that’s ‘going well.'”

Of course, in the minds of most people- including in my own mind before giving birth- a short labor is a good labor. And I sure didn’t sit around hoping for a 50 hour labor. No, no, no. In fact, if someone had told me I would be in labor for 50 hours I would have told them, ‘No, sir or ma’am..you are incorrect.. that’s horrendous and I will not allow it to happen.’ Still, I don’t know how I had the mental and physical endurance to do such a thing. I’m not a marathon-runner, through-hiker, or endurance sport enthusiast of any kind. But there’s a whole lot involved in birth that’s mysterious and not quantifiable.

My perspective now is the same as it was the day after my son’s birth. And now I’ve had 6 months to put words to that perspective.

Every woman has the goal of ‘healthy mama, healthy baby’ during labor and delivery;  not one time during labor did my baby’s heart rate drop. Not one time did my vitals show signs of distress for either of us. My babe took his time, but was calm throughout and born healthy, and I came out of it real tired and with a long recovery ahead (who doesn’t..??), but healthy.  I would never put my own health or my baby’s at stake for the sake of a certain type of birth. Knowing this, I proceeded with my ideal birth scenario with no fear around letting my body work in the way it is biologically programmed to work, as long as my health and my baby’s health was stable.

And most women desire at least one thing beyond a healthy mama and a healthy baby that further addresses the huge mental and emotional components of the birth process. I desired to feel empowered through labor and birth; I was supported by an amazing team of people that guided me, comforted me, and also never did things like tell me to stop eating and drinking. I was informed and involved in every decision along the way. And in the end, perhaps the biggest moment of empowerment came in surrender. Fifty hours of labor, and letting go of my expectations of birth was by far the greatest moment of strength.

I have been told I climbed the Everest of labor.

The more I hear women talk about the physical, mental, and emotional components of growing and birthing a baby, the more I think pretty much every baby is, so to speak, born at the summit of Everest.

You can plan, train, and prepare endlessly, but when the moment arrives, you can’t climb Everest on knowledge alone. You can’t climb Everest with pure physical capability. You can’t climb Everest without an awesome support team. And you can’t climb Everest without playing the mental and emotional game.

Or without food and water…

And probably some tears, yelling, wondering what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into, why you’ve gotten yourself into it, and when- dear God- will you come out the other side.

My labor ended in a cesarean birth. So, do I feel like I got close to the summit, wimped out, and hitched a ride to the top on a Sherpa’s back?

No.

I am incredibly grateful for modern medicine, which brought my baby from womb to world.

And I am equally grateful for my 50 hours of labor, which left no stone un-turned in attempting a natural birth, showed me parts of myself I never knew existed, and allowed me to feel at peace, simply, with process.

Because a summit, no matter how it’s reached, is the beautiful, single moment you’ll recount forever. But the climb is the grit and the heart that only you can know.

Coming Back

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Hello out there! I’m coming back to you after a 14 month hiatus from Happily Lost, which has been my treasured space to document our adventures for the past 8 years. I’ve missed this space, and I’ve missed you readers! Never before have I taken nearly so long away from my writing and from this blog, and it feels so good to be coming back.

Because I’ve neglected to document our adventures here for quite a while, I’d like to share a quick update with you as I attempt to get back into the swing of things.

Last you saw, I reflected on our last day of Peace Corps service one year after leaving Mozambique. Just before this, we had taken the long way home from Moz, meandering through Southeast Asia for a couple of months. When we returned to the U.S., I shared snippets from the Monthly Mindfulness Community Series. And that’s just about where things left off.

Since then, we:

Road-tripped to Oregon to visit friends and skiied for the first time in nearly 3 ski seasons.

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Spent a second summer living and working in Estes Park, CO/ Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Moved to Glenwood Springs, CO, where we enjoy all the outside things we love year-round.

Grew a tiny human.

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Took a trip south to White Sands National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and some great state parks in New Mexico.

Visited Tybee Island, GA and enjoyed family time, dolphin-watching, and floating on a pool noodle while super prego.

Birthed the tiny human, who turned out to be a not-so-tiny 9 pounder at birth. Welcome to the world Linden!

Put Linden in a wrap, where he took many wonderful womb naps while we soaked in as much Fall hiking as possible as I recovered from pregnancy, labor, and birthing.

Took a few overnight trips nearby as a family of 3, including celebrating our 6th year of marriage and 14th year of togetherness.

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Bundled up the babe and got out cross-country skiing.

Took Linden on his first airplane trip, to visit a good friend in Phoenix and soak up amazing warm temps and sunshine.

And that brings us to this week, where things are pretty much as they have been between the adventuring: Colorado sun is shining, dishes in the sink, little messes everywhere, and Linden waking up with lots to say in coos and screeches.

I’ll be back soon!

After the R: The Untold Story of The Final Day

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“You can use it, but it’s not like an American bathroom.”

These words made me lurch.

It was our final day of Peace Corps service, and we were a smidge stranded at the home of someone’s brother, waiting for the funeral of someone we’d never met. But we’ll get to that. The real question right then was: After 27 months in Mozambique, why the hell would this man- who knew how long I’d been there- think I’d be expecting an American-style bathroom!?

We had hitched a ride with this Father from the church in our town, Mapinhane, up to our banking town, where we would spend a couple days with friends before flying to the capitol to close our service. When he told us he was heading that way and offered us a ride, we were elated at the opportunity to throw our 3 large bags in the back of his truck instead of cramming them- and ourselves- into a public mini-bus. Nearly two years to the day had passed since we had first hitched a ride with this same man to this same town; that time he had asked us on the ride home if it would bother us if he grabbed a beer to drink as he drove us back- a mostly accepted Moz norm, which we rejected. Perhaps we could have predicted that this ride with him, two years later, wouldn’t come without a bit of adventure.

We had spent our final morning in a quintessentially Mozambican way: walking leisurely on our favorite path, passing the time taking pictures and conversing with our closest Mozambican friends and neighbors, shaded from the summer sun by large trees. The morning was quiet and slow, nearly all of our boarding school students already packed up and headed home for the summer break. In this calm, surrounded by some of our favorite people, the morning drifted by so slowly that we could just be, and let it soak in. I had already shed most of my tears in the days leading up to this, our final day. Although a deeper sadness had taken up residence in me– and would stay for a while, then go and change and come back to me even a year later- on this day, I was at peace.

 

 

As it was, we would spend the afternoon in a quite different but equally quintessentially Mozambican way: with tardiness, a funeral, and reminders – like that one about the bathroom- of our foreign-ness.

What we thought would be our final moments in our town stretched into our final hours. After having said our goodbyes, our three good friends decided to hang out with us at our house while we waited for our ride to arrive. We mostly sat in silence, for about 2 hours. By American standards this is, of course, unheard of. But, in Mozambique this is quite normal; to be together is to be together, with no compulsion to fill the space with words.

Two hours after our agreed upon time, the Padre arrived.

My heart started to race. ‘This is it,’ I thought. ‘Our final moments.’

In just an hour, we would be in our banking town, our beach home away from home, preparing Thanksgiving dinner with our ex-pat friends.

As we stood at the front door of our Peace Corps house, with these three amazing Mozambicans, I recalled our first day at this house. I was struck by the difference that two years can make. On that first day, we stood on this same stoop, just the two of us. On this last day, we stood with three of our four best friends. I recalled the words of the fourth: “People ask me why those foreigners like me so much. I say it’s because I’ve never treated them like foreigners.” I knew, in that moment, that the people that we were spending our final moments with embodied that and, in turn, had made this place a home in the two years between our wave hello and our wave goodbye.

 

 

 

 

We took a few pictures, and loaded our bags into the back of the truck. We pulled out of our school grounds to the waves and good byes of a small group of lingering students, and to the somewhat sullen faces of those three people that had worked so deeply into our lives with their unending kindness and patience, and their ability to normalize a life that at times felt anything but.

Trying to hold back tears, I watched the landscape pass by as we drove: the tall grasses greening up from early season rains, the reaching of coconut palms, the scraggle of bushes, the humble homes made of grass or aluminum or cement, and the women, always walking somewhere, their vibrant capulana skirts popping amidst all the green and brown. We stopped at one point for a group of women hitch-hiking. They exchanged words in the local language, Xitswa, with the Padre before climbing into the truck bed for a ride.

About 15 kilometers from our final destination, Padre posed the question: ‘Do you mind if we stop at my brother’s house? There’s a funeral starting in the neighborhood soon, and they’d like me to speak. It won’t be long.’ This had been the news that the women had shared with him.

Although we knew that nothing in Mozambique truly starts ‘soon’ and once it does start is guaranteed to ‘be long,’ we replied: “Está bom.” ‘It’s okay.’ We had replied in this way for two years, in all sorts of situations. A counterpart is two hours late for a meeting: está bom. A vendor doesn’t have change and has to run around to three other stores to get it for you: está bom. The door of the mini-bus falls off: está bom. ‘Está bom‘ had become our mantra for Peace Corps service; our verbalized intention of letting go of the multitude of small irritations that were one hundred percent out of our control every day. So, who were we to tell a respected Padre, ‘Sorry, you’ll have to miss your funeral. We’ve got places to be.’ At least, who were we to tell him without giving it a couple hours to unfold first.

We pulled up to his brother’s house, where we were given chairs under a tree. After some time chatting, waiting, listening, wondering, I asked to use the bathroom. This is when Padre felt compelled to prepare me for the experience by reminding me that it isn’t like an American bathroom. As if this were day 1 in Moz, and not day 800 and something. As if I would cringe at the mere thought of peeing in a corner covered in smell-dampening peanut shells, or pooping in a hole. As if I would shy away from having to disclose if I was going in for a necesidade menor or necesidade maior (basically, a number 1 or a number 2) so that I could be directed to the corresponding receptacle. As if I hadn’t come to admire a Mozambican’s pride and determination to keep a clean bathroom, even if it was a hole in the ground or a corner of peanut shells. As if I was, well, a foreigner.

I peed in the peanut-shell-covered corner. We waited more.

When I suggested that we wouldn’t mind calling a taxi, or seeing if our friend could come pick us up, I was told, “Ha de comecar daqui a nada. Esperamos.” ‘It will start in no time. Let’s wait.’ It already had been lots of time, and it would continue to be much more time. Finally, I told Padre ‘We really do need to get going. We have a going-away party at our friends house and we need to prepare the food. But really, you don’t need to leave. We’ll call a taxi.’

No, no, no. He agreed to take us.

As we pulled out of the neighborhood onto the main road, we stopped to let a procession of trucks pass, the beds filled with capulana-clad passengers, standing up, singing. The funeral was starting. The padre was missing it. Our awkwardness was settling in as the minutes-stuck waiting in the intersection- ticked by. A woman approached the car and greeted the Padre. Was he going to the funeral, she wondered. No, he had to drive us to town, he replied. Yes, hello, we are the ones causing the priest to miss the funeral, we waved.

Still, he was in no rush to drop us off and head back. Next up was a stop at a convent, to drop off some goods for the nuns. We unloaded fabrics, food, sodas and were offered to come in and stay, sit down, have a soda, and chat. Much to our relief, Padre turned down the offer, relaying the message that we had a going-away party to get to.

Five hours later than expected, we turned onto the road of our final destination, a subtle ‘Thank God’ kind of joy ready to burst out of us. With the road running directly parallel to the beach below, Padre made one final observation before bidding us farewell.

Olha la. Vossos amigos,” he said, pointing to a white couple walking on the beach. ‘Look! Your friends.’ Perhaps they were French, or Italian, or German. Maybe even Americans. But two shining truths remained. Padre’s truth: They are white. You are white. You must be friends. Our truth: We’ve never seen those white people in our lives.

Our final morning had wrapped up our service beautifully; like festive wrapping paper on the messy gift that was our two years of Peace Corps service. Maybe Mozambique could have let it be, could have let the challenges of service remain inside the box-real enough to add some heft, but pleasantly out of sight until we choose to tear back the layers. The tardiness, the funeral, the bathroom, and the anonymous white-skinned “amigos” on the beach, were the bows on that gift box though: while unnecessary and slightly glaring, they kind of complete the package.

The insight of today was the irritation of a year ago.

A year ago I thought, ‘Of course he’s late. Of course we’re at a random funeral. Of course I’m STILL being treated as a foreigner. Oh yeah, and of coouuurssee I know those white people.’

Now, as I look back, I think ‘Of course he was late. Of course we ended up at a random funeral. Of course I was still treated as the foreigner that I was.’

…’But, still, no…I don’t know all the white people.’

The truth is that the time spent chatting under trees with our three best Mozambican friends, feeling accepted and at home, sitting in simple silence, waving goodbye to our students, and watching our most-traveled 45 kilometers of road pass by was equally as valuable that day- and all the days of our Peace Corps service- as arriving five hours late, waiting for the funeral of an unknown community member to start, peeing on peanut shells, and feeling what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racial ignorance.

These are the completely opposing forces that teach us, broaden us, deepen us, strengthen us, and that change us, even after we feel we’ve walked away.

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Meant to fill a void I have observed in the Peace Corps blogosphere, this series will address personal elements of life after earning my ‘R,’ a designation that changes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), after 27 months of service. Look for posts that answer common questions, address elements of transitioning back to life in the U.S., and reflect on Peace Corps service.

 

 

 

 

Summer Summary: Mindful Movement, Mindful Workplace, Mindful Relationships

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We’ve been staying busy in the Monthly Mindfulness Community this summer, tackling some dynamic and important topics. I’m here to let you in on it!

During the month of June, as summer kicked off, we focused on a mindful movement practice. Whether people were creating a new movement practice, improving a current practice, or just tuning in, we brought attention to intention vs. goals and focused on taking small steps in our movement practice.

Our weekly prompts in June were:

 

In July, we switched gears to talk about a mindful workplace. After identifying their greatest challenge at work, community members set an intention for the work week, focused on gratitude at work, and tuned into self-talk in the workplace.

Our prompts in July were:

As we wrapped up our mindful workplace month one of our members shared with me: I love that we have come back to self-talk!…the words we say to ourselves are the key and if we are aware of that, we are more conscious of the words we use and actually use them to feel what we want to feel (motivated, excited, etc.) Thanks as always, really enjoying this! 

Now, here we are in August, digging into mindful relationships. Whether it’s friendships, spouses or partners, or parenthood, community members are getting mindful of their own level of presence in interactions, as well as of qualities in relationships that nourish and deplete us.

Our prompts so far in August have been:

This past week a community member shared with me If you just focus completely on compassion and showing positive, loving behavior no matter what, and make a decision not to be annoyed by anything at all for a certain period of time, you can create a really strong foundation and  clear environment in which to address behavior and see if there is an interest on the part of the other in making a change. 

It’s not too late to join us and start finding mindfulness in your daily life! Don’t worry, you won’t be behind if you join now; you can start at any time. Jump in now and I’ll send you a folder of all past emails to peruse at your own pace.

Remember it’s:

  • Free
  • One email per week with a prompt, resource, and personal reflection from me.
  • A learning and sharing experience

Click here to sign up and join our mindfulness journey!

Hope to see you there!

After the R: Six months later

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My mother chuckles at me as I fill a pot with water to heat on the stove for tea.

“What??” I reply.

“Why don’t you use the microwave, you silly girl?” she asks.

This was months ago now, during our first visit to the home my parents moved into while we were away. My mother seemd to follow me like a shadow during that, my first time in her new kitchen., checking on my cooking, directing me to the correct utensils, chuckling all the while at my apparent ineptness.

‘A mãe is a mãe everywhere,’ I thought, as I recalled our host mother in Mozambique insisting we use certain spoons for certain cooking tasks, and following us around the little kitchen in much the same way my mother was doing now.

Just as our host mother did, it seemed my mother- perhaps unintentionally- was training me. Or re-training me.

As it turns out, we had a ‘training period’ during our first three months at home that was oddly similar to that three month training period upon arrival in Moz.

There were things like (re)learning the language, first experienced when someone said they were ‘doing lyft’ this summer.

“Do you mean lifting?” I asked, motioning as though I were lifting weights.

She did not mean lifting. I’m sure you know what she meant. I didn’t.

And moreso during things like job interviews, or talking to someone about Peace Corps service, when the English word was right there, but couldn’t quite be found behind the Portuguese word. How many times have I just wanted to be able to say ‘pedir,’ knowing it means ‘to request’ but knowing too that no one says ‘request’ and wondering what is the more common English word we use.

There were (who am I kidding, this is present tense..there are) market stress moments.

I remember the first days in our market in Mapinhane: an overwhelming experience because of local language I didn’t understand, heat I wasn’t ready for, and the feeling of being stared at by lots of eyes. It didn’t take long before that became the norm and lost its overwhelm.

Now, the grocery store is a mess of large carts, too many choices, and lighting that seems meant to scare me. While I’m resistant to this becoming the norm, I suppose it will, eventually.

While the setting has changed, the biggest mystery remains the same as it was in the Moz market: what the hell do I cook with what’s here?

You might recall from my last After the R post that I talked about ‘catching my breath, catching my culture.’ That was a big part of the first 3 months back, and still comes in waves.

We recently passed the 6 month mark since closing our Peace Corps service. Passing that mark hit me hard. Some tears were shed.

And for many of the same reasons they were shed after passing the same time marker in Moz: It’s been a good while since I’ve seen the people I left behind, I still feel unsettled and a little out of place, that life of ours that was so beautifully normal now feels like a dream.

What’s shifted since I last wrote to you about life after the R, is that now that I’ve caught my breath, my culture (more or less), there’s space to start seeing some of the bigger picture stuff. There’s space to start noticing what Peace Corps service truly did for me.

Simply put, in Mozambique, I grew up.

This isn’t a realization that I’ve had only since being back; I knew it toward the end of Peace Corps service. But 6 months out I still recognize this as the umbrella that shelters most of the deep changes that occurred and most of the ways in which those 868 days away taught me to live well here.

I didn’t grow up in the sense of ‘adulting.’ When I started Peace Corps service, I was in my late 20’s, married, and had spent a few years working, paying loans and bills, since finishing college. I had become an aunt. I had travelled. I had published a book.

But still I hadn’t accepted my own anxiety. It had to follow me across the world and dig me a big deep hole for me to really acknowledge it, get to know it, and learn to manage it.

Still, I was often wracked with guilt about various relationships in my life. Then came a simple phrase spoken so strongly that it invited me to believe it: ‘Estou bem como estou.’ I am good how I am. A good friend told me to tell my students this when they said my hair was unkempt. But those may have been the most important 4 words spoken to me during my time in Moz.

Still, I wondered about my Purpose. But when nearly everything in my day to day life dropped away and was steadily replaced by something foreign, I noticed the things that remained and recognized them as shining, glimmering, unwavering Truth.

Being able to witness how the experience of culture, language, lifestyle, and work abroad have woven together to effect life now is turning out to be one of the best paths of discovery since being home.

When I most appreciate these discoveries is not when I’m actively trying to use a skill I learned from Mozambique. It’s not when I can understand Spanish because of learning Portuguese, or when I can get ready for my day using leftover boiled water when the water is turned off for a construction project. It’s not even when someone tells me I have the “patience of a saint,” or that I’m resourceful. In these moments I can smile to myself about Peace Corps skillz.

But when I most appreciate these discoveries is in the moments when I realize how Mozambique taught me, how it grew me, without me even knowing it. It’s when I notice my brain assessing a problem in a whole new, dynamic way. It’s when I understand what I need, when I can say hey to my anxiety, when I can be pleasant but assertive and know that that’s a good thing.  It’s in moments of solid confidence, of letting go and trusting. And it’s in the tough moments, but how I ride them out instead of getting stuck in them. It’s in a feeling, a memory, a knowing, as strong as the sun, as subtle as the tide going out, that I realize the way things were and the way things are.

Meant to fill a void I have observed in the Peace Corps blogosphere, this series will address personal elements of life after earning my ‘R,’ a designation that changes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), after 27 months of service. Look for posts that answer common questions, address elements of transitioning back to life in the U.S., and reflect on Peace Corps service.

May: Mindful Home month

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Welcome to month 4 of the Monthly Mindfulness Community Series. This month’s welcome is a bit delayed, as my husband and I have been in the process of wrapping up our 6 months of post- Peace Corps pre-tirement (traveling, visiting out of town friends, lunch dates and midday workouts, and readjusting to life in the States), and moving to start summer work. Apologies for leaving you hanging!

This month in the Monthly Mindfulness Community Series, we are focusing on Mindful Home. Minimalism and simplifying certainly seem to be hot topics these days, and I’m excited to see where this month’s theme takes us. As a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I’m curious to see where this takes me personally as I stare down- both literally and figuratively- the towers of boxes full of things from my pre-Peace Corps life. Our aim this month is to bring awareness to our physical space, the things that fill it, and why.

We started by choosing just one area of the home to focus on this month as we bring our mindfulness practice into our physical space. Our first prompt this month was:

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Yesterday, community members received our second prompt of Mindful Home month. Usually all you lovely blog readers only get to see the first prompt of the month, but I’m going to let you in on prompt 2 this month:

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Last month, during Mindful Media month, we used this question to do some Spring Cleaning on our social media sites, asking ourselves what value certain follows add, as well as what value we add to social media when posting.

I recycled this prompt this month to help spark the process of mindful de-cluttering in the space we chose to focus on this month. Along with the prompt, I sent out some additional questions and a de-cluttering ‘challenge’ to assist our Monthly Mindfulness Community in this process.

Throughout the rest of May, we’ll continue to grow our mindfulness around home and physical space, focusing on organizing, prioritizing, and waste reduction in one area of the home. My hope is that these prompts and exercises can then be applied to the rest of the home, and that our community members are growing more mindful each week as we continue to practice our skills of observation without judgment, paying attention, and noticing things we’d like to shift in our lives.

Come and join us on our mindfulness journey!

You can join our community at any time…don’t worry, I promise you won’t feel like you’re ‘behind’ or lost; when you sign up I’ll share all past emails with you so you can browse back if you’d like to…but you don’t have to complete all the prompts or read every single email to benefit and grow your mindfulness practice. Jump in at any time!

Remember it’s:

  • Free!
  • One weekly email with a prompt, a story of mine related to the prompt, extra resources and exercises.
  • Self-paced
  • A learning experience, and sharing experience if you choose to join discussions in our private Facebook group.
  • Meant to help you learn little tips and tricks to increase mindfulness in various aspects of everyday life, like communication, self-care, media use, and home.

Click here to join the Monthly Mindfulness Community Series!

April: Mindful Media month

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Welcome to month 3 of The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series! Before I get into our theme for this month, I wanted to share a few notable takeaways from our community members during March, our month of mindful communication. During our mindful communication month, prompts covered both self-talk and communication with others. I also shared a podcast about the throat chakra, an article with 4 tips for mindful communication, and a podcast about altering your self talk.

I heard from one community member about a moment of mindfulness she had during a conversation with a friend. Here’s what she told me:

So after listening to the podcast about the throat chakra, I was talking to a friend who has told me before that I over think things. I tend to blow it off when he says it, like ‘I know better who I am and his comment doesn’t really matter to me’ so I just usually squash it/resist it/defend instantly. But this time, I was quiet, I let that truth, his truth prevail with no defensiveness. The results were brilliant. I saw that I needed to calm my mind and really think about what I was trying to get a across before I spoke. I even chose after that not to speak. And I found him paying more attention to the content of what I was saying the next time I spoke and I was sensitive to his defensiveness and also more willing to let go of convincing each other of anything if it we weren’t getting there. THANK YOU!

At the end of each month, I put out the prompt ‘This month I have noticed…’ to the Monthly Mindfulness Community. This gives us a way to reflect on the month and to recognize patterns we’ve seen, which is the first step in increasing our mindfulness. One community member shared the following on that final prompt for our mindful communication month:

Since I have always felt like I talk more than I listen, I have been trying the zipper trick [imagining you have a zipper over your mouth during conversations, to be more mindful before responding], and it is a good reminder to actively listen before I respond. I have also been paying attention to my inner dialogue when something feels overwhelming, and a couple times I have written down whatever is on a loop in my head, and that seems to at least slow the train. I haven’t gotten to it this month, but the other thing I want to focus on is my tone of voice. I think I sometimes sound irritated, not necessarily as a result of the conversation I’m having, but just because of my stress level in general.

After spending a month focusing on communication, I hope that much of what community members learned can translate into our theme for April: Mindful Media.

We use media in so many ways, so many times each day. We use it to connect, to consume news, to express opinions and ideas. And- I think we all know it- it can be pretty easy to be mindless in our use of media. So, this month, we are going to tune into what media looks like in our daily lives.

Our first prompt this month follows the theme of the first two months. We always spend the first week of each theme tuning into our own personal habits, tendencies and patterns. Our prompt this week is:

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As we move through our month of mindful media, we’ll do some Spring cleaning on our social media sites, tune into how we feel when we click out of a social media site and what our ‘follows’ are doing for us, and more 🙂

Are you interested in receiving a weekly prompt from me around each month’s mindfulness theme, connecting with others in the community, and having access to all of our prompts so far? Do you want to get your thoughts rolling further by checking out podcasts and articles on each theme, and completing some ‘mini-challenges’ to increase your mindfulness?

If so, come and join The Monthly Mindfulness Community!

Click here to learn more, and remember, it’s:

  • Free
  • One email per week, and completely self-paced
  • A learning experience, and a sharing experience if you choose to join discussions
  • Meant to help you learn little tips and tricks to increase mindfulness in various aspects of everyday life, like communication, self-care, and media use.

Click here to join The Monthly Mindfulness Community!

After the R: How’s being home?

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Before sitting down to write today, I looked back at the first ‘After the R’ post that I wrote. In addressing the question ‘How was leaving?’ the first thing that I mentioned in the post was that I still felt in extremely close emotional proximity to Mozambique and to Peace Corps service. At that moment, I felt that life had changed suddenly in huge ways, that all that we had built up over two years was suddenly pulled out from under us, and that our lifestyle was kind of unraveled when we left.  There was a strange form of grief that I felt for a number of weeks after leaving, and 3 months later it still comes back to me some days. I expect it will for some time.

With 2 months of travel to process through some of the impact of leaving, we arrived home with more emotional distance and clarity. We arrived home to the tune of many questions about life in Mozambique, perhaps more questions about what’s next for us, and one glimmering question about what’s going on right now.

The question is: How is being home?

Remember when I gave you the short answer in that first post? I’ll do the same here.

The short answer is: Good.

The short answer is true. It is good to be home. It is amazing to see our family and friends. It is good to take a hot shower. It is good to eat blueberries. It is good to hike and ski and wander and roam. It’s good to drive to the doctor and not fly. It’s good to drive. It’s good to not sweat. And as a close RPCV friend once told me, it’s good not to have “crunchy panties,” due to residual detergent that’s impossible to remove during hand-washing…

There are mountains upon mountains of things to be grateful for when it comes to being home, and I recognize those things every day, and take note of them.

It is also possible to hold two things to be true at the same time.

It’s good to be home.

Remember when I told you before that the short answer is really only sufficient for small talk but provides minimal understanding? The same applies here.

We’ve been home now for what feels like an eternity but is actually hardly more than the blink of an eye. We’ve been home for 7 weeks.

We were gone for 124 weeks, and we’ve been home for 7.

I often forget the disproportion of those 2 numbers when I find myself frustrated at still being overwhelmed by the 87 varieties of Triscuits in the supermarket or still not being able to find words in English or snow boots in some packed-away box. In this way alone it’s incredibly obvious what’s changed in our lives: we’ve moved from a slow culture where ‘Eu nao sei’ (I don’t know) is an acceptable answer to any question from cracker choice to your life plan, to a fast culture where the expectation is to ‘sabe tudo’ (know everything), from cracker choice to your life plan.

Our life has changed so much, so quickly that some days it seems impossible that we’ve lived deeply in these two very different realities within 3 months of each other. It’s a very uncomfortable truth that Mozambique feels like a long, beautiful, vivid, increasingly distant dream. As I listen to a bathroom fan run, I wonder if it really could be true that I used to urinate frequently in a bucket. As I buy tomatoes only in multiples of 4, I realize how odd it is that Moz made that a habit that doesn’t apply here. I could pick up 2, 5, or 30 tomatoes, and there would be no woman to waggle her finger ‘no’ at me as if the idea of buying some willy-nilly, non-multiple-of-4 amount of tomatoes was preposterous.

These days, it seems that I am supposed to be like a rubber super-ball, bouncing back into life in America-the life I grew up in, after all- after bouncing out to Moz for a quick sec. In reality, I feel more like Silly Putty being tugged on by a nasty, grubby, sticky expectation of what re-integration should look like.

In one moment I am pulled into the terrifying maze of Super Target by the [false and infuriating] expectation that my re-integration should include shopping at mega stores.

In the next moment I am pulled into yet another conversation about the future, under the expectation that I should have a plan.

I should remember the plethora of helpful kitchen appliances now available to me. I should be able to eat all foods without my stomach taking revenge. I should be able to speak English well. I should never accidentally drive on the wrong side of the road for a sec (well, Alex should never…), I should be able to buy a 6-pack in less than 20 minutes and 6ish paces in front of the big ‘ole beer cooler. And, goodness gracious, I should know what Triscuit I want because I ate ’em before and what’s changed, really?

should feel normal.

should understand.

I should feel one hundred percent joyful to be home.

Whether these shoulds are pressed onto me by others or self-inflicted, the fact of the matter is that they are a product of the culture and the environment in which we now find ourselves, and staving them off is a never-ending battle.

I tell myself I should because I want to feel normal in my environment.

Others tell us that we should because they think they understand, because they want to understand and are trying to understand, and probably even give us helpful tips as to how we can re-adapt.

I believe strongly that there are pieces to the re-integration experience that everyone can relate to. Everyone has experienced sudden and drastic change in their life. Everyone has experienced pressure from expectations, and from the word should. Everyone has, at times, felt out of place in their culture or environment.

But just as with any of those unique experiences- and any RPCV reading this would say the same thing- no one can understand unless they’ve done it. Unless they’ve done this exact thing. I’ve had this conversation with RPCVs from Moz, from Tanzania, from Guyana, from Morocco, and while our experiences even vary among us, I think this is a pretty universal conclusion about reintegration.

I’d venture to say that all of the shoulds are about 20 steps beyond what any recently returned PCV feels is urgent and vital in re-integration.

There is a sense of urgency, perhaps, but it is not in what you think. There are a million subtleties that define each day, completely invisible to the person that sees them day in and day out, but stark to the person who doesn’t, or who hasn’t for a while. This is culture.

It defines how we relate to each other. It defines when and what we eat. It defines how we perceive our surroundings and our world. It defines expectations, goals, and desires. It is ‘the air we breathe.’

So, when you ask ‘How is being home?’ and I pause to inhale before I speak, know that I’ve already answered, just by taking a long, deep, slow, breath.

Being home is trying to catch my breath. Trying to catch my culture.

Meant to fill a void I have observed in the Peace Corps blogosphere, this series will address personal elements of life after earning my ‘R,’ a designation that changes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), after 27 months of service. Look for posts that answer common questions, address elements of transitioning back to life in the U.S., and reflect on Peace Corps service.

 

 

March: Mindful Communication month

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Our first theme of The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series wrapped up with a few notable takeaways from our community members. By being mindful of self-care throughout February, a few community members noticed how little time they take for self-care, how it can be easy to make a plan but difficult to stick with it, and that it can be easy to say we are too tired or too busy for self-care, but if we make time for it, it helps with energy, stress, and productivity in other areas.

While you can certainly tell by now that this series is all about mindfulness, we can now start to see how that translates into daily life: paying attention, noticing patterns, and then moving from that place of awareness if we wish to make change.

Our strong foundation in self-care will now help us move forward as we explore mindfulness in other areas of daily life. This month, we’ll be focusing on Mindful Communication, and applying our self-care practice as a tool in helping us communicate most effectively. After all, we all know it’s hard to communicate well when we are hungry, tired, or stressed. So, we are building on our mindfulness practice!

Our prompt this first week is meant to help you bring awareness to patterns in your communication, both with yourself and others. Our prompt this week is:

The ending to this prompt seems simple, initially. We use communication to talk to ourselves and others, express ourselves, make connections and build relationships. These are overarching, universal themes of communication. So, this week we are taking a look at what really makes up our individual communication patterns. How do you tend to communicate with others? Is it in a way that encourages, entertains, or something else? How do you tend to communicate with yourself? Are you encouraging, critical, or something in between in your self talk?

In addition to this prompt, I shared one of my favorite podcasts on the Throat Chakra and communication with community members this week.

If you would like to receive a weekly prompt and additional resources, and/or join discussions in our Facebook group, come and join the community!

Remember, it’s

  • Free
  • One email per week
  • A learning and sharing experience

Click here to join the community

The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series: Mindful Self-Care Week 3

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The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series is in it’s first month, and we are focusing on mindful self-care as a way to build up our foundation so we can move toward mindfulness in other areas of our daily lives.

Check out the introductory post to our Mindful Self-Care month to see what this month is all about!

For the first time on Happily Lost, readers can sign up to join one of my blog series! Community members in this series receive a weekly email with a prompt and additional resources to help explore our month’s theme.

For this month only, I will be sharing each of the weekly prompts here on the blog so that you all can get a sense of the series.

Our prompt this week is:

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You can use this prompt to focus in on where in your day or week you can let go of a non-nourishing habit in order to make space for a piece of your self-care practice. This is meant to help us make space slowly, letting go of 1 or 2 things to begin with, and making space in 10-15 minute increments. In this way, we can start to see that small steps add up to big changes!

If you’d like to be part of a discussion around this prompt, and/or receive future prompts and some additional resources for each monthly mindfulness theme, come and join the community!

Click here to enter your email and join us!

I’ll send you an email when you join with a full list of our monthly prompts, plus the extra resources from February so you can start building your foundation in self-care, mindfully! Hope to see you soon in our community 🙂

Community members, Check your inbox for this week’s email, including one of my favorite simple mindfulness exercises, and after you have a chance to think through this week’s prompt, head on over to our Facebook group to share your responses to the prompt and some follow-up questions that are posted there. If you aren’t receiving the emails, please let me know by emailing me at happilyherwithcece@gmail.com.

The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series is a blog series, as well as an interactive, peer-based learning community, centered around mindfulness in various aspects of our daily life, Click here for more details about this series.