Why I’ve been dialing complete strangers

I’m not very politically involved. I tend to shy away from discussing politics, unless I already know a person really well, and I don’t engage in or provoke political discourse on social media. I think this stems from a deep-seated proclivity for conflict-avoidance,¹ coupled with the feeling that many of my friends, family and colleagues are more knowledgeable about politics than I. I have never registered with a political party, have never attended rallies; at most I’ve given a few bucks here or there and gotten a bumper sticker in return. 39.9 years, and I have generally avoided politics for all of them.

Until now.

We face a somber reality: the most dangerous presidential candidate in my lifetime stands a chance of winning the White House. Narcissistic, misogynistic, jingoistic, xenophobic, short-tempered, deeply insecure, ignorant, and any number of other adjectives that describe someone who should never lead our country, Donald Trump stands shockingly, terrifyingly close to being chosen to do just that. I shudder to think that he could be president.

Feeling so strongly, am I not obligated to do something? Especially in light of his facing an incredibly qualified opponent who stands for so much of what I believe in?

And so, for the month of August: political activism.

HFA

I knew I was not a good candidate for going door to door, because: three small kids. But I did think of something that I had no excuse not to be able to do- something I could do from home, when the kids were asleep, with minimal time commitment. I went to HillaryClinton.com and clicked “Act,” where I quickly learned how to sign up for phone banking.

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The sign-up was surprisingly easy, and within two minutes, a red button saying “Call” stared at me. No training was required, no vetting that I wasn’t secretly a Trump supporter, trying to infiltrate the campaign. These are good, trusting folk, these Hillary For America organizers. I was nervous: was I really ready to call random people and pitch them on why they should support Hillary?

Here’s how it works. You sign up for a state to call. You are given a name and phone number to dial, and a complete script to use. I took a deep breath and went for it.

The first time I phone banked, the only state that was “open” for calls was Hawaii.² I read through the script and was immediately troubled. They wanted me to say “I am a volunteer for Hillary for Hawaii here in Kauai.” But… my “here” is not in Kauai, even if I wish it were. Am I really supposed to lie, right off the bat, as part of my phone banking duty? I decided that I would allow myself to go slightly off-script so as not to say anything that felt wrong to me, like lying about where I was calling from. Sadly, I didn’t reach a single live person that shift.

Hawaii call

The next shift, I hopped on the phone on a Sunday afternoon, which meant I had many more states to choose from. Iowa needed me to make 3 calls. I was told it’s the first state to vote, with voting kicking off in September. Okay, Iowa- I’m here for you! I clicked on “make calls,” and was informed that all the calls had been made. Fantastic! On to the next state.

I clicked on West Virginia. They wanted me to make 5 calls to Hillary supporters in that state. I clicked “call,” and got the message, “Problem accessing phone banks. Whoops! Something went wrong. We’ll reach out when we get this settled.”

I tried West Virginia again, and was told, “Way to go! You called everyone on the list. Can you grab a few more calls?” Sure- this was easy!

Next, I tried Rhode Island. Same message. Either there were plenty of phone bankers, or the system had some major bugs. Surely some state could use my cell phone minutes and my ability to read from a script?

I clicked on Massachusetts, and finally — FINALLY — we had a winner.

I tried calling a 24 year old male named Louis. No answer. I continued: Bil, Sidonie, and Patricia: all went to voicemail.

Finally, an answer: Deb! I gave her my intro pitch, and she said she’s not registered in Massachusetts. I asked her where she’s registered: California. (Why, that’s where I am! Good thing I hadn’t pretended to be calling from Massachusetts!) The script hadn’t prepared me for this turn of conversation. Me: “Uh, that’s great. I’m actually there to0. Listen, can I ask you- because we’re trying to find out how many supporters we have in different states- can Hillary count on your support on election day?” Deb, after a pause: “Yes.” And the line went silent.

My heart slowed down.³ I made it through my first live call! And I didn’t totally bomb it!

I go back to the phone for more: Martha, Chad, Mark (number not in service), William, Patricia, Karen (number not in service), Michael, Paula, David. This phone banking is not for those who seek instant gratification — it’s very hard to get someone to pick up. This doesn’t surprise me, since I would react the same to an unknown number calling me on a Sunday evening. Still, now that I’m the unknown caller, I’m silently begging people to answer their phones.

Another Paula, this one an 81 year old female. She answers! I tell her who I am, and she says, “Isn’t it rather late to be calling?” (It is 8:30pm Massachusetts time.) Once again, I stutter and go off-script. “Well, we’ve found that this time in the early evening is the best time to find people while they’re at home, uh, before they go to bed. If it’s too late, I could try back some other time.” Paula: “Oh no, that’s all right, it’s just that I’m tired is all. Why are you calling, dear?” I go back to the script and ask her if Hillary can count on her support. “Of course!” says Paula. It turns out that Paula had even volunteered for Hillary in the primary, and she will again, if the timing works out, but it all depends, because “her husband isn’t well.” I feel bad, but I press on: this is the first time I’ve made it this far in the script! I ask her whether she could possibly go to New Hampshire next weekend, and she says that Elizabeth Warren is coming to speak next weekend, and she’s “the top,” so she can’t miss out on that. I agree, and congratulate her for having volunteered in the past, and Paula and I hang up cordially.

So, after all of this phone banking, what have I learned?

  1. Taking action, no matter how small, does give a person a sense of accomplishment. Even if that accomplishment is letting H4A organizers know when a number is no longer in service.
  2. Even though the Hillary Phone Bank organizers encouraged me to fib about my location, I am still strongly supportive of Hillary (and I would be even if her opponent was someone other than Trump).
  3. Elizabeth Warren is the top.
  4. Volunteering for a campaign feels a bit like a gateway drug. I confess that I have since gone on to purchase Hillary paraphrenalia, again, a first for me.

In my newfound role as political activist, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage all of you to make sure to vote on Election Day and help us elect Hillary. You might even try phone banking, or doing something that requires you to leave your house (and if so, my three children and I tip my hat to you).

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¹I remember when my older sister used to try to argue with me. She would yell and try to provoke me with her words and tone of voice, and I would refuse to engage. I’d stay calm and usually walk away, and this would drive her crazy.

²This is what I get for attempting to phone bank at 10:15pm California time. Hawaii is one of the most reliably blue states in our country. It’s a gimme for the Democrats in modern presidential elections. Why are we spending volunteers’ precious time calling a state that is guaranteed to go Hillary? Might we not want to reallocate our resources? (Says the campaign newbie who, two minutes in, thinks she knows what’s best. I’ll pipe down now.)

³Readers may be interested to note that phone banking for Hillary gave me a bigger adrenaline rush than jumping out of the airplane, back in April. Yeah, I know. Weird.

 

A Tale of Two Sequels

When I originally conceived of the “My Year of 40” concept and started thinking about different things I could do each month, one of my first ideas was to learn to code. How very millennial of me! Plus, I work at a software company; code is all around me (as are millennials).

More importantly, coding is right up my alley. It’s a mash-up of foreign languages and logic problems: two things that are super fun.¹

My only real coding experience was when I taught myself HTML back in 1999. I read “HTML For Dummies” and that was all it took. HTML, learned. Three very basic but orderly websites, built.

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Coding = Fun! An example of SQL.

Fast-forward to 2016. I haven’t coded in 14 (!) years, and yet, there’s a part of me that fantasizes about coding for a living. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to solve problems every day, just man vs. machine? And then turn off your computer when you’re done for the day, and not have to bring your work home with you? And not have to worry about the team that you’re trying to grow and develop, and the company-level strategy that you’re trying to guide, and the hopes and expectations of 90+ employees on your shoulders? (But I digress, and also, I exaggerate.) The fact is, I liked my coding of old, and I was ready to tackle a new language.

The engineering team at my company primarily uses a language called Ruby. I would love to learn it, but I’m not sure how I would use it unless I were to actually start working on the engineering team. Instead, I decided on a different language: SQL. (Pronounced “sequel” or “S-Q-L.”)

SQL, as I understood it, was a way to get actionable insights out of data. We have lots of data at my company, and we store it in a database. If I want to query the database, I have to use SQL.

I also chose SQL because we have a company subscription to a learning platform called Udemy, and one of their most popular courses is called “SQL for Newbs.” Perfect! HTML for Dummies, SQL for Newbs– I embrace humility in my quest to learn to code.

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My course and the instructors. Highly recommended.

I started the course with four of my colleagues, and we had been taking our time with it, doing about a half-hour every two weeks.²

I needed to move a bit faster, in large part because I had a deadline for myself. My goal was to learn enough SQL to run my own query and get one actionable insight by the end of July. Specifically, I was hoping to query our candidate and employee data to discover answers such as which candidate sources yield our best-performing employees.

Unfortunately, I didn’t count on one thing: the data I wanted to query was not the data in our database. Not to get too technical on anyone, but I would have had to create my own database and essentially become a database administrator before being able to apply SQL to that data. No, thank you. At that point, we would have bid the fun farewell.

Stymied, I still haven’t run my SQL queries. I will, I promise- but not in time for this month’s post. Instead, I have another sequel to share.

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Despite what my hairdresser said, this was not blond.

Last month’s attempt at “blond” came out more like a honey color. By this past week, with my roots showing, I felt like a fading tiger. Back to the salon for a sequel, and this time, we went for the bleach. I mean, if I’m trying to be blond for my year of 40, let’s do this thing!

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Blonder than before. I feel daring.

So now I’m bleach-blond, literally, and I feel funky and not at all myself. Which, in my year of 40, is kind of the goal.

* * * * *

¹I recognize that some of my readership may disagree with me on this point.

²This leisurely pace is not recommended if you hope to retain anything at all from the lecture.

A Stoic, Powerful Lady

I like exercise. A lot. I’m one of those people who goes a little bit crazy if I go two or more days go in a row without exercising. I don’t need to be prompted to do it; if anything, it’s the reverse: I’m usually begging for time (from my husband, while he watches the kids) to do it.

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Me + exercise = happiness

My natural affinity for exercise, coupled with my penchant for thrift, means that I have never splurged on a personal trainer. Until now. (Thanks, year of 40!)

My approach to finding a good personal trainer was one of the least rigorous decision trees I’ve ever faced. Do I belong to a gym? Yes. Does the gym allow outside trainers? No. Which of the gym’s trainers should I choose? The one the YMCA assigns me. Just fill out a questionnaire, along with my preferred training schedule, and the YMCA will find my match. Easy peasy.

First, what am I hoping to accomplish through personal training?

  • Weight loss?
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness?
  • Strength?
  • Better muscle tone?
  • Athletic improvement?
  • Functional training (e.g. for a race)?

I looked in vain for an “all of the above” option. How could I narrow down my goals to just one?  Nearly a year after giving birth to my third child, I’m not where I’d like to be, body-wise or fitness-wise. Still ten pounds over my goal weight; still not running as fast as I used to; muscles a bit flabby compared to years ago. (When I’m feeling uncharitable, I’ll look at my kids and think to myself, “Were you worth it?”) Help me, personal trainer!

Enter Rick. The complex algorithm involved in the above questionnaire had deemed us a match. But in a sign that our relationship was doomed from the start, Rick was hard to get a hold of. I emailed — crickets; I called — he didn’t respond; he texted back; we couldn’t find a time to connect. Finally we chatted on the phone, but we still couldn’t agree on a time to meet. Four weeks (!) after I initially set wheels in motion on finding a personal trainer, we finally had our first session.¹

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Rick has thrown almost everything I thought I knew about personal training out the window. To begin, we didn’t start our first session with a weigh-in. How can we measure improvement if we don’t have a baseline? Nor did we write down a series of exercises, number of reps, and what weight I should use for each exercise. When I asked him about that, he said, “Nah. Takes too long. I don’t want to waste any of our time with writing. Next time, bring your phone and I’ll take pictures; then you’ll remember what we did.”

 

Twice a week we meet, and Rick throws a battery of new exercises at me every time. It makes my head spin. Every now and then he’ll say “let’s do that one we always do,” and then launches into an exercise I’ve never seen before. We go for half an hour, doing a series of drills that he seems to come up with on the spot. He reminds me of a puppy, finding something new that catches his eye, and wanting to play with it. We dart all over the gym; one moment at the kettlebells, then over to the mats, then back up to the free weights, now over to the machines, but only after we grab some ropes and go to the group exercise room.

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One of the many exercises Rick throws my way. 

Also like a puppy, he craves feedback, an emotional response to everything he’s giving me. He says he can’t read me- “you’re stoic! I can’t tell what you’re thinking!” I resist giving him feedback, because what I’m usually thinking is, “Oh please get me through this exercise. Only 10 more reps. I hate this one. It’s so painful. Ugh. Just get through it. Why am I doing this again?” Rick, if you’re reading this: it’s not you, it’s me!

To be fair, sometimes I like it. I like being told what exercises to do, and how many of them to do, and having someone else keep count for me. I like being encouraged right when I’m most inclined to stop. But it’s definitely a love/hate.

Rick gives me heavier weights than I ever use on my own. He says I don’t sweat (not true) so he thinks he’s not working me hard enough (also not true).  He has me do far more reps than I want to do. I guess this is the real benefit of personal training: pushing you harder and further than you would choose to push yourself. He may remind me of a puppy, but clearly, I’m the one being trained. He calls me “lady.” (Like Lady and the Tramp?)

“Okay, lady. I want 20 reps. Go! Come on, lady. You got this! You’re powerful!”

I grimace; I push through to the end of the set. Or sometimes, I don’t. I stop, and rest, and Rick modifies his demand: the goal drops to 15 reps, and I can feel his disappointment. I’m letting Rick down.

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Stoic on the outside. Inside: 

In the end, I will let Rick down some more, because I will not sign up for another set of sessions. My penny-pinching wins out: I can’t possibly justify spending this kind of dough on twice weekly personal training. Especially when (and Rick, this is not your fault)- I have actually gained weight over the last month.² Sigh.

An aside: I actually did two new things this month. Did you catch the second one? Look at that last photo; see if you can spot what’s new.

* * * * *

¹A long enough delay that I had to push personal training to June and find something else new to do in May. You remember floating? Yeah, that was just filler.

²I know, I know. “Muscle weighs more than fat.” Blah blah blah. Just get me back to my pre-kids body already!

 

A Supposedly Fun Thing…

Readers, a confession. I’ve dropped the ball twice recently. First, I am blogging about May when we’re already a week into June. (Tsk, tsk.)  Second, and the bigger ball drop: I couldn’t get my act together enough in May to do the “new thing” I wanted to do, so I found a hasty, one-and-done replacement.

Karma: my lack of commitment to my Year of 40 would not go unnoticed by the universe.  “I know,” said the universe. “I’ll give her a second month in a row of disliking something that everyone else seems to like.” And so, a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.¹

Namely: floating. Thanks, Universe.

When I first heard of floating a year or two ago, I immediately put it on my bucket list. Here is the gist of it: water is made so salty that we become completely buoyant. You float in this water in total darkness and quiet, and the combination of the weightlessness and sensory deprivation is supposed to be magical, otherworldly.

Sounds cool, right? Who wouldn’t want to do that?

So it was that I cross-referenced floating on Yelp and Groupon, ultimately deciding to book a one-hour session at “Float Matrix.”  I headed there after work one day, ready for some relaxation. Would it be like meditating? Like a massage? Like a hot tub?

I walked into an understated doorway in Nob Hill and down the stairs to the basement. Dingy carpeting led me to a young man behind a desk. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get his name, and his only distinguishing characteristic was that he was young- 18 perhaps?- so I’ll just refer to him as YM.) I checked in and was led to the bathroom, where I was to wash off thoroughly and don a robe and slippers. YM then led me behind a curtain, then another, to a “room” (can you call it that when only curtains divide the space up?) in which there was nothing other than a tank and a bathmat. Float Matrix: D- for ambiance.

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Float tank. Zero ambiance.

The tank was about eight feet long by three feet wide. YM explained that I open the door and back in, so that my head is farthest from the tank door. His introduction to floating was brief and puzzling. He said he had a few analogies for me: it would be like floating in the Mediterranean, because “it’s the same density.”² Next, he said it would be like floating in my mother’s womb.³ He told me that they use 4,000 pounds of Epsom salt.4 Finally, it’s okay if I fall asleep, because “it happens all the time, and it will probably be the best rest” I’ve ever had. When the time is up, he will knock on the outside of the tank, and I can knock back to let him know that I’ve heard him.

Once YM had left, I stripped off my robe and slippers, put in the ear plugs (highly recommended so that you don’t get salt water in your ears) and backed into the tank. The water was surprisingly shallow (18″ or so). I closed the tank door and laid back.  The water and the air were both heated to the same temperature, 94 degrees, so that “you can’t tell the difference between the water and the air.” I waited for this to be the case, and every so often I asked myself, “Jill, do you know where the water stops and the air begins?” The answer was always a definitive “yes.”

So, what did it feel like? To use my own, non-Float Matrix-approved analogies, there were two predominant sensations. First, it felt a lot like “the spins”: when you lie down after drinking too much, and the room seems to be spinning, and you have a hard time focusing on anything. This is a cool sensation for about, say, five minutes. And then you just want the world to stop spinning.

My next analogy is that of a neglected pool toy: sitting lightly on the water, drifting occasionally to one side of the pool or the other. (My foot would suddenly touch one side of the tank, and I would gently push myself off; then another part of me would touch another side of the tank. Was there a breeze in my float tank?)

I did not fall asleep; I did not have “the best rest I’ve ever had.” I did turn off my brain halfway, but not nearly as much as I had expected. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my breath, which seemed as loud as a white noise machine. I tried opening my eyes, which felt about the same as having my eyes closed, but I didn’t want the salt water to bother them, so I ultimately kept them closed.

And here, no pun intended, is the rub: the salt water. This is why floating is not like going into space, or nesting in a mother’s womb. Salt is an irritant. And after a bit, I was irritated (both physically & spiritually). The salt was starting to bother my skin, and I had a funny taste in my mouth, in addition to being parched. What was the point of enduring this any longer? Feeling a bit sheepish, I climbed out of the tank, re-robed, and found my way to YM.

He was surprised to see me. “You still have 15 more minutes!” he exclaimed. I said, “I’ve had enough. Is it okay if I bail?” “Sure,” he said, his disappointment unmasked. I had failed him. Was I the first to have done so?

In the shower, I noticed that I had lines of salt running down my chest. The shower water felt as soft as a blanket, and after I emerged, my skin was as smooth as my ten-month-old’s cheeks. So this is why spas use salt scrubs. (Ah, but do they use 4,000 pounds of salt? Time to up your game, spas everywhere.)

So I left, feeling like this was not something I would need to do again, nor would I evangelize my experience to friends or family. In the end, the otherworldly sensory-deprivation float tank was really just like being drunk and thirsty in a warm, salty, meditative bathtub. Which, upon reflection, is probably how textbooks describe the experience of being in a mother’s womb.

* * * * *

¹One of the best essays of all time, found in the book of the same name.

²Surely he meant the Dead Sea.

³This is just plain weird. Is the implication that we’re supposed to remember what that feels like? And that we yearn for that feeling? Who is the scientist behind this claim? Does Float Matrix encourage the use of this analogy, or did YM go off-script?

4Per float? Per year? Am I supposed to be impressed by this statistic, even though it makes no sense?

Skydiving, or how I signed my life away for a cheap thrill

After a highly dedicated Meditation March, in which I spent time every day on something that I didn’t necessarily feel I had time for, I wanted to give myself a break in April. I was excited to check off a bucket list item that wouldn’t require a month of commitment to complete. Skydiving, here I come.

Somehow, I have made it to 39 years of age without jumping out of a plane. You would think that at some point during my travels in my teens and 20’s, or during my unrestrained college or grad school years, I would have had the chance. But no. So it seemed like the perfect candidate for my year of 40: something that I can try for the first time, either enjoying it and deciding to keep it in the new Jill rotation (hello, veganism) or putting it aside as an “I did that; now I never have to do it again.” Guess which camp skydiving falls into?

At face value, skydiving seemed like the kind of activity I’d love. I’m pretty risk tolerant, and I tend to enjoy adrenaline-rush activities: roller coasters, water slides, snowboarding faster than I should. When I bungy-jumped in New Zealand, I hardly blinked before diving off that bridge. I once dated a guy who skydived (skydove?) often, and when he told me about it, it sounded amazing, not scary. I felt sure that, when the day came for me to try it, I would fall head over heels. (Bah-dum-bum.)

On Saturday, Graham and I drove down to Santa Cruz for an 11:30am skydive appointment. Graham elected not to dive, having done it before and not feeling the need to go again. The first thing you do when you arrive is sign and initial about 15 pages of liability releases. You cannot sue the operators under any circumstances, no matter how negligent they are, etc. They make you hand-write a sentence in which you acknowledge that skydiving can lead to serious injury or death. Simultaneously, they show you a video in which a crazy looking man with a wiry, foot-long beard reiterates that THEY ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING. IF YOU DIE IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT. YOU WON’T SEE A DIME.¹ I get it: Graham can’t sue. But we agree that, if I die, he will sue anyway. He will also be hard-pressed to raise the kids by himself, but he’ll remarry after a suitable period of mourning.

My tandem partner will be Eric. Eric inspires confidence: he has over 8,000 jumps to his name and still seems to be cogent and able-limbed. Better still, he doesn’t strike me as the least bit loony, unlike crazybeard in the video. I suit up, let Eric choose a backpack (figuring the more I put in his hands, the less I am to blame if something goes wrong) and follow him to our plane. In our small talk, he tells me I’m one of the most confident people, pre-jump, that he’s ever met. It’s true: I’m not scared at all. For whatever reason, there is nothing about what we’re about to do that makes me nervous.

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Pre-jump confidence

Our plane climbs up over the Pacific Ocean, then heads slightly inland so we’re jumping over land. When we get to 10,000 feet, Eric opens the door. I cross my arms over my chest, swing my legs out the side of the plane, and lean forward. And…. we’re freefalling!

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And I’m free… Freefalling

BUT… it’s not fun. I’m in pain. My ears are blocked — there is tremendous pressure. It feels sort of like if you dive in a deep pool too quickly, only magnifying that pressure by about 10x. I look around, trying to enjoy my view, but I’m too distracted by the pain. Nobody told me about this! It feels like a cruel trick. I grin and bear it, knowing that I have a GoPro on me the whole time, and also that I only have about 30 seconds of freefall before the parachute will open. At that point, we’ll be at 5,000 feet and surely my ears won’t hurt any more.

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Smiling for the camera (faking it). And see that vein (or artery?) in my neck? Not normal.

I get the 3…2…1… signal from Eric, and then the parachute releases and the harness yanks me up and my feet fall toward the ground. Now we’re vertical, falling gently at about 1,000 feet per minute toward our landing field. My neck and my ears are no longer in pain. It’s pleasant enough, but I certainly don’t feel an adrenaline rush. I’m observing the fields, the cows, trying to steer the parachute a bit. Eric points out a red-tailed hawk. And then, we’re fast approaching a field, and I see Graham beside a van, pointing his phone toward me. We land, and it’s over.

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Parachuting over fields. Jill’s turn to steer.

Eric: “So, did you love it?” Me, laughing: “No, not really.”

Honestly, I feel — and felt– a little cheated. I was hoping and expecting to love my skydiving experience. When we were driving back to our starting point, the other first-timer said, “My heart has only now started to slow down.” Strangely, I don’t think my heartrate was ever elevated during the jump. I certainly didn’t get the adrenaline rush that Graham and others had described. Perhaps Meditation March was too effective, and I’ve become too zen.

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Laughing at the idea that I’d want to do that again.

In any case, skydiving is something that I can now say: Been there, done that; no need ever to do it again. In some ways, that’s the perfect bucket list item- something you can check off, for good. And hey, I made it out alive, with a few decent pictures to boot, and no need to sue Crazybeard. That’s good enough for me.

* * * * *

¹I was more scared of the man in the video than I would ever be of skydiving. He was terrifying, looking and sounding vaguely like that recent Planned Parenthood shooter. Who in their right mind decided he was the right spokesman for the skydiving video?

So this is why people meditate

A confession: when I embarked on Meditation March, it was one of those “because I should” kind of endeavors. I didn’t actually think I needed meditation, and I was skeptical that I would get anything out of the month.

I’ve surprised myself by actually needing, and relying on, my new meditation techniques. Not once, but twice. Did the universe align just so? Did some higher power look out and say, March is a great time to throw these things in Jill’s path, because she is armed with meditation and will be equipped to handle them?

I’m being overly dramatic. But just slightly.

So, what were these two incidents?

First, I had a very high-stakes meeting — the rough equivalent of the most important interview of my life. I had spent a few days preparing, and I even rehearsed some of my thoughts on the drive down. Arriving one hour early, I ducked into a Starbucks, which turned out to be a bad idea, because now I was nervous *and* hopped up on caffeine.¹

When I arrived at the building, I had about 7 minutes to spare. I was extremely nervous, so I decided to meditate for a few minutes before going in. This would never have occurred to me in the past. I probably would have just sat there with my nerves, perhaps reviewing my notes, or scrolling through Facebook to take my mind off things. Instead, a few minutes of “focusing on my breath” brought me to a state of composure that I sorely needed. The meeting went fairly well- I won’t know the real impact for another month or two- but in any case, the meditation seemed to help.

Fast forward to last week, one of the most challenging weeks in my work life to date. I was embroiled in a very stressful situation, one that kept me from sleeping at night and absorbed all my focus during the day. I’m not good enough at meditating (yet) to have been able to banish all thoughts of this situation from my mind; instead, I would start to meditate and my mind would immediately go to what was happening at work. So: a meditation failure.

However, when the week culminated in a confrontation, I saw the power of my meditation practice. During the encounter, I focused on my breathing, and I allowed negative comments to pass me by. Later, I even tried a “loving kindness” meditation, in which I sent positive thoughts out to a person who doesn’t like me. The result? I have moved on. I don’t let that person, and that situation, occupy my mind any more. I am able to focus on the present and future, rather than being stuck in what has transpired. And I am sleeping much better as a result.

Going into March, neither the high-stakes meeting, nor the impending confrontation, were on my radar at all. But then: there they were. And I sailed past them. This was my small meditation victory, and I’ll take it. I have to imagine that people who meditate regularly, not just during Meditation March, must have these small victories all the time. And that makes meditation a kind of secret superpower. Who knew?

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¹Not really. It was decaf. But that sounds so lame in the retelling, doesn’t it?

A bad meditator

I am at once the worst candidate and the perfect candidate for a daily meditation practice.

The worst: take “zero free time in my day,” multiply by “I hate spending any time in idle thought,” and add a dose of “I obsess about getting enough sleep, but rarely do”– and perhaps you see why a regular meditation practice is something that feels like a bad fit.

And yet… it’s probably those same factors that make me the perfect candidate. After all, meditation should help me learn to enjoy idleness. It should help me be okay with the amount of sleep I’m getting (and perhaps enable me to enjoy a higher quality of sleep). And as for not having enough time in my day– well, something will have to be sacrificed.

My first few days of Meditation March saw me eager to get to bed, but “forced” to meditate first. It felt like a chore, something I had to check off my list before I could do the thing I actually wanted to do (sleep!). Since then, I have tried to find other times in my day to sneak in some meditation. My ferry ride has been a good opportunity. I have a half-hour ferry ride, twice a day, in which I normally do work or catch up on my reading. Instead of my normal routine, I have stopped myself after 20 minutes of activity, in order to meditate for the last ten.

My actual practice either entails a guided meditation (I’ve been using the “Buddhify” app, which offers short meditations for different times in your day) or my own meditation: focusing on my breath, while trying to clear my mind of other thoughts. I’m about 20% successful. But I think I’ll get better.

So far, I give myself the following grades¹:

Enthusiasm: B-

Focus: D

Diligence: A

My first small meditation success came a few days ago. I had an important meeting, and I felt very stressed for the 24 hours leading up to it. A few minutes before going in, I paused and gave myself 2 minutes to close my eyes and focus on my breath. This actually calmed me immensely, and it’s something I never would have thought to do before Meditation March. I win!

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¹Of course, grading yourself at meditation is probably one of the least meditative things you can do.