Our Intentional Christmas

Given that we’re recently engaged, this is the first holiday season that Liz and I have fully merged our travel plans. We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Michigan and Christmas with hers in Iowa and Minnesota (where we are currently). While navigating each other’s traditions, we’re also intentionally creating our own. While we celebrated Christmas today with Liz’s mother, sister, and brother-in-law, we celebrated our own Christmas last Friday and Saturday before leaving San Francisco. Friday was our faux Christmas Eve, while Saturday was our stand-in Christmas Day. We knew we would participate in our respective family traditions when we travelled, so this would be the place where we started our own traditions – some adopted from her family, some adopted from mine, some merged, some imagined anew.

Our Friday night “Christmas Eve” consisted of a celebratory dinner, cozy fire, and loitering on the couch listening to Christmas music. We experimented with prime rib, twice-baked potatoes, corn, and a kale salad for dinner, trying to figure out whether that felt like our holiday meal. Following Liz’s family tradition, we each opened one present (a puzzle for her, hot chocolate for me). And following my family tradition, we sprinkled ‘fairy dust’ in the fireplace to help Santa ease down the chimney.

Christmas morning we awoke lazily and settled onto the couch with our respective caffeine of choice (Diet Coke for Liz and coffee for me). We opened presents methodically, one-for-her and one-for-me until the pile had disappeared. I was surprised to find that even small acts like this are loaded with invisible decisions (e.g., Do we wrap presents for each other? Does Santa wrap his presents? Do we open all at once or do we go back and forth?). It’s been curious to not only experience different ways of doing things as I step into Liz’s family, but to also figure out which of the traditions I care about. I mind less whether we have a real or artificial tree, but I care immensely that we use the stockings that my grandmother knit (including new ones for Liz and Reese).
reese and stocking
Christmas morning breakfast was perhaps our easiest tradition to establish. On special days in the past (i.e., holidays, the morning of our engagement), we have long been eating a crescent-roll-scrambled-egg creation that we have dubbed “Miracle Loaf.” As with many rituals, we can’t quite remember why we eat it or why it has that name, but at this point, it’s stuck. This year, we adapted and evolved the Miracle Loaf recipe further, adding garlic, replacing green onions with white onions, and slap-dashing some egg wash on top to brown it up. It is perhaps the first true Whipple/Callahan recipe in our recipe card collection.
miracle loaf

Like me, you may be asking “What does it all mean?” “What values do our traditions manifest?” and “What do our traditions aspire to?” For the most part, I don’t think we’ve created these traditions because they are specifically meaningful or symbolic. Instead, we select some to honor her heritage, we select some to honor my heritage, and then we co-create together. The meaning is less in the action of eating the Miracle Loaf or wrapping the gifts, but instead in the fact that we’re consciously choosing our own path together.

Wishing you a very happy (and intentional) holiday season,
Meredith

Twenty Four Hours of Driving Across India

This past week I spent at least two hours a day driving across Rajasthan, Haryana, and Delhi states.  While driving is a universal task, there are three things I find distinctive about driving in India:

From above

First and most evident:  the traffic conventions are unique.  There is speedy passing and minimal regard to lanes.  It’s not unusual to dodge an oncoming truck, even on a divided highway when you might assume they’d be on the opposite side of the barrier.  There are plenty of slow-moving objects (e.g., donkeys, tractors, horses, cows, bicycles) on the highway.  And horns punctuate the majority of driving maneuvers.

Because of these conventions, driving in India takes distinct skill.  I’ve always had a driver when I’ve come to the country (daring to drive only once in Calcutta – and then for maybe a block).  This means that I’m almost always in the passive passenger role instead of the active driver role.

And finally, there just seems to be a lot of driving.  Over the past week, I’ve spent over a day of it (yep, twenty-four hours) in the car.  Four and a half hours here.  Three hours there.  Thirty minutes that was supposed to be five minutes, but we got caught behind a gaggle of schoolkids drumming and then had a run-in with a camel.

Collectively, this makes driving in India quite different from the States.  There is simply a lot of time in a car, over which you have minimal control, and you may feel explicitly out-of-control when your driver makes the Nth harrowing dodge-and-weave move around a formidable truck.

motorcycle

tuktuk
In reaction to this difference, I’ve heard every possible reaction:  Some visitors complain “Ugh, the traffic is awful!  It took us six hours to get to Agra!”  Others comment:  “I loved all our visits, but my favorite part was just watching the world go by in the car.”

I’m no exception; my own experience of driving this week ranged from:

  • “Hurrah for driving!  What a wonderful way for me to reintegrate back into India.  I’ll watch the world go by, read the Times of India, and get my head back into being here.”
  • “Driving is the worst.  I don’t want to make small talk with anyone and think my head is going to explode.”  Note:  We stopped halfway through this drive for me to throw up.  Great times.
  • “Hurrah for driving!  I’ll sit next to my new friend and work on learning the Hindi alphabet so I can read the signs!”
  • “How lovely to have this time to discuss – to debrief, to digest, to talk about things that really matter.”
  • “Driving is the worst.  I’m so done with this.  Get the f’ out of the way of the bus.  I will personally get out and push the cow off the road if that’s what needs to happen here.”
  • “Why are we stopped? . . .  No, seriously, why are we stopped?”

traffic inside

It’s crazy:  When I hate driving, I really hate driving.  I am viscerally tied up in my frustration and annoyance.  And when I love driving, I really love driving.  I am compelled by the country, happy to chat with a friend, and completely at ease about how long everything takes.  The bad is objectively bad, and the good is objectively good.

Yet, in reality, driving in India is neither good nor bad.  It just is.  And my experience of it is simply what I decide to bring to the situation.  My reaction to the blaring horns and gridlocked cars is just the result of the experiences I’ve had, the opinions I’ve formed, and the reality I decide to buy into at any given time.

The same is true with every experience in life:  traffic, changes of plans, a promotion, death, the breakfast menu, that music blaring, the room I’m assigned at the hotel, illness.  We often buy into broad assumptions of good or bad (i.e., getting upgraded at the hotel yesterday is good, getting a migraine the other day is bad).  Ultimately, though, none of these assessments are objectively true.  (For example, my upgraded room creeped me out because it was so big and old and I slept with the lights on.  The migraine, on the other hand, made me really conscious about how I was engaging with other people and ensured I was fully present when I recovered.)

Nothing is good or bad.  It just is.

So thank you, India, for reminding me of this truth and giving me the choice of what to bring.  I prepare for yet more driving tomorrow, I’m going to let myself believe that all that car time can be a blessing.

Meredith

Are You Reacting To Life or Creating Your Life?

This week someone posed the question “Are you reacting to life or creating your life?”  I liked the formulation and decided it was my key reflection point for the week.  But instead of writing about it, I’m mixing it up and putting my dubious drawing skills to the test.  Thus, please enjoy:

title

reaction

creation
With love,
Meredith

 

Giving Up My Command-And-Control Post

Sometimes I get stuck in a feeling of lack.  It could be lacking anything – enough money, enough time, the right attitude, the right opportunities, the perfect interactions with others.  Like everyone, I find myself ruminating that “This is not enough” and “That is not right.”

This weekend, I was throwing away junk mail when I ran across a flyer from a self-help program.  In my cursory flip through, I found this suggestion:

“Get in touch with the feeling of what’s it’s like to feel you have your every need and want already met.”

Every need and want already met.  That sounds nice, I thought.  Impractical, but nice.

It continued:

“Just rest into that feeling for a moment.  Feel it in your belly.  Allow it to expand up into your heart.  Open up your awareness to feeling it spread all throughout every cell in your body and even to the area around your body.”

Of course it sounds cheesy.  It is absolutely cheesy.  But I try not to let judgments like that limit my experience, so I gave it a shot.

I opened up my journal and wrote down everything I needed and wanted:  a perfectly-balanced travel schedule, the willpower to follow through on my health commitments (The Month Without Sugar is in full swing), a thriving social life that is both broad and deep (this has been challenged by my travel schedule), and a perfect and cheaper-than-expected wedding venue .

This exercise of visioning the future was not unfamiliar to me; my journals are filled with goals, expectations, and ambitions.  What felt different about this, however, was experiencing those ambitions from the perspective of ‘already-havingness’ and ‘already-beingness’ instead of plotting how they would occur in the future.

You see, when I set a goal, my instinct is to write a tactical plan that outlines exactly how I’ll get there.  So when I set the vision of a “perfect and cheaper-than-expected wedding venue,” I was quick to start my Excel spreadsheet of locations, ask former brides for their suggestions, and fire up the online diligence.  When faced with a goal, I default to strategic thinking, clever problem solving, and executionary prowess to get me there.  These are my trusty old tools; I’m good at them, and, most of the time, they work.

Make it all happen

This challenge to try on ‘already-havingness’ and ‘already-beingness’ eviscerated my typical approach.  I had to turn off the achievement machine in my head.  No more mental to-do lists, no more clever plans to bring my goals to life.  Instead, I just had to sit, to let them come, to feel them to be true with every part of my body.  And it felt amazing.

Beyond feeling good (many things make you feel good, this is just one), it seemed to be useful as well.  Case-in-point:  As soon as I gave up the spreadsheet, the appointments, and the aggressive pre-planning, we locked down our perfect, cheaper-than-expected wedding venue.  The already-havingness was, weirdly, already true.

Do I believe that you can imagine your goals into existence?  Not necessarily.  But it’s both wonderful and relieving to think that every good thing doesn’t need to be the result of my effortful striving.  A better approach for me might be to just let go a bit.  Stop trying to drive so much.  Stop trying to work so hard.  And maybe join together my vigorous action to make things happen with the faith and feeling that they already have.

Meredith

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dont work too hard

Intentionality

Outside of Arenberg, Germany

Why The Intentional?  I’ll admit that at the beginning, my ambitions were far grander than a blog.  I dreamt of having the time and space to write an entire book about the concept of intentionality, and perhaps, later down the line, that will happen (the outline is still in the works).  In the short-term, though, I am happy to share with you the concept of intentionality as it serves as the inspiration behind The Intentional.

What is intentionality?
Many of us wind our way through life in a fairly accidental way. How many times have you suddenly become aware of the fact that you just spent four hours on some combination of Buzzfeed and Facebook?  Or have you ever gone to the kitchen and ended up eating a whole bag of potato chips/pint of ice cream/<insert other favorite food here> thoughtlessly and without enjoyment?  It’s not uncommon that we do any number of things in our lives – from the micro-actions of every day to the macro-decisions we make – with less thought than would be ideal.

As recent science shows, this lack of consideration happens in part because the cognitive load of thinking through each choice is incredibly high (see Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow).  But I believe that there’s another powerful driver of this thoughtlessness.  I believe that we fundamentally lack a common concept that encapsulates what we’re talking about.  We lack the taxonomy – and thus lack the consciousness – of the alternative.

The alternative is intentionality. Intentionality is the value of aligning your beliefs, thoughts, and actions with a conscious vision of what you want to create in yourself and in the world. By way of introduction, I’ll break down a couple of the key themes embedded within this definition:

“Intentionality is the value. . .” Intentionality, like freedom or equality, is a value which we hold and an ideal that we can live more or less consistently in our lives.  Even if you disagree with the vision which someone may hold of the world, you can tell if they live their life consistently with that vision.

“. . . of aligning your beliefs, thoughts, and actions. . .” You must be able to influence your beliefs, thoughts, and actions to be able to align them with a vision.  The idea that we control our actions is foundational in our society, serving as the underpinning of our governance and legal systems.  And the idea that we control our thoughts, though not universal, is well-articulated in many reflective traditions.  Yet an understanding of how we control our beliefs is less common.  In short, we operate within a world limited by our own assumptions and beliefs.  These assumptions and beliefs often become invisible to us, but are, in reality, ours to make, destroy, and re-make however serves us best.  The ability to consciously create of our beliefs – rather than accidentally form them based on a subset of data we haphazardly collect – is a powerful tool in realizing our intentions.  More on how we align our beliefs, thoughts, and actions to come.

 “. . . with a conscious vision. . .”  This phrase points to a through-going value of mindfulness or consciousness.  At the most basic level, we must be aware of beliefs, thoughts, and actions so that we can better align them.  Beyond that, we must consciously craft a vision of what we want to create in ourselves and the world.  What kind of person do I want to be?  What type of relationship do I want to have with others?  What impact do I want to have on the environment?  These are the types of questions which prompt us to craft that vision.

“. . . of what you want to create in yourself and in the world.” We are powerful co-creators of our own existence; indeed, we are more powerful than we know.  Our beliefs, thoughts, and actions directly contribute to the creation of our reality.  In fact, they co-create this reality with the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of those around us – individually and collectively.  Intentionality is only important if our beliefs, thoughts, and actions have a significant impact on the world.  Though this impact is not always tangible or proximal, it is real.

It is one thing to define intentionality, it is another to see it in practice.  Importantly, I believe we have a severe intentionality gap in the world today – that we have a dire need for more intentionality in each of us individually, in our society collectively, and in the world broadly if we are to progress.  With intentionality – and only with intentionality – comes ownership over our lives, responsibility for our impact on others, and the opportunity to consciously co-create something better – qualities we need to move forward in our complex, crazy, interconnected world.    

I’ll continue to unpack the idea of intentionality, the philosophy behind it, and the implications of living more intentionally in future blog posts. That said, let’s make this an awesome dialogue.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Meredith