Detroit / Things I Like

How to change your life in 40 days

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In the early years post-college, I lived in Bennington, Vermont. It was as lovely as it was heartbreaking. Where else could you go to the local general store and bump into the writer Jamaica Kincaid, angrily shaking a bundle of weeds in her fist (she was unsatisfied with the store’s window boxes)? Where else could you look in every direction and see mountains and feel immeasurable in the context of nature? As a young woman without a definite career aim at the time (I just knew what I didn’t want to do), I was happy to fall into work that challenged me and enabled me to have a life I enjoyed. I also made my first real friends as an adult; something I struggled with in college and earlier. One of the most important friends in my life lost hers; too soon, and so unfairly. I had by then migrated back to Washington. Better paying jobs, more people my age had beckoned. But it wasn’t until Marie’s passing that the thread of connection was cut between Vermont and me.

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I had another friend in Vermont who was impossibly chic and so daring and smart about people. She was a writer and often quoted poetry, the lines of which became maxims… at least for me. One of her favorites was by Søren Kierkegaard:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

This brings me to the present. The idea, conceived between friends, was simple yet daunting. Wake every day and journal our thoughts. Try to be in a mind frame of abundance and practice activities that are more health promoting than health destroying. Fran and I would show our accountability to the idea by posting a top line or log entry on Facebook every day.

Yes, it was a coincidence that we chose to do this around Lent. Yes, we understand that Lent was more than 40 days this year. It felt like a good time to buckle down on 2014 and if other people were similarly reflecting or abstaining, we had passive support. For me, it was easier to say “I gave up wine for Lent” than explain “I’m trying to see how I cope with stress without my usual wine crutch.” Ten days into the challenge, I buckled down on my eating habits and adopted a Whole30 approach (more on that can be found here). I largely kept to that protocol and continue to do so.

What did I learn from the practice? It took me more than 30 days to really be honest with myself. To take stock took a lot of warm up. Once I was more honest it was easier to be kind to myself.

I also learned that I think a lot about existence, equity, and fairness. Where I live now, Detroit, struggles with these issues, too. My reflections often mirrored things happening here… making sense of the craziness.

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The last 40 days had some significant ups, I launched some projects and felt good about that. I saw the first concrete signs of winter’s end. I traveled to Chicago and to Washington (twice!) and made plans for a big international trip at the end of May. I also experienced some setbacks and disappointments. I disappointed people and they disappointed me. We all lived.

Forty days is a mere twitch in the scheme of things. It’s easy to get caught up in throes of daily urgencies. It’s much harder to make the commitment to myself to be constant in self-care. Self-care for me means reflection, eating well, exercise, and doing more (rather than less) of things that feed me. In a way, this has been a mere amuse bouche for the real work. A taste of what that constancy can feel like.

40days (slideshow of all 40 days of Facebook posts)

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