Posts Tagged ‘birthday’


One night, about a month before I moved from Boston to NYC, I was walking home from Cambridge after dinner with one of my best friends. The weather was pleasant, not too hot and not too cold. There was a lovely breeze and a sort of electricity in the air. As I walked across the Longfellow (or salt and pepper shaker) bridge, I stopped to gaze at the Charles river, glittering with the lights of Back Bay, while the T rumbled into Charles Street station behind me. Standing there, I felt a sense of magic, specialness, something almost sacred.

I think about this moment from time to time. What made it different from the millions of other moments I experience from day to day? Why does it stick out in my memory? My explanation is simply that I was fully present: not thinking about packing boxes or perseverating on my fears about moving. Just experiencing the beauty of the moment and gratitude for my ability to notice.

In meditation, we practice synchronizing the body and the mind. By placing the mind’s awareness on the breath, we remain in the present moment. And each time the mind escapes to the past – replaying events, solidifying stories – or races ahead – planning the day, fantasizing about something in the future – we practice bringing it back, to the breath, the present, NOW. And it is always NOW.

Particularly during this time of year I find it difficult to remain aware of the present moment. I am constantly going somewhere, getting something done, performing some task in order to move on to the next. As I check off my Christmas shopping list, meet friends, and prepare for the festivities, this holiday season, I’m experimenting with being fully present during the moments I usually view as means to an end. While walking to meet a friend, I enjoy the trip, instead of seeing it as standing between me and meeting my friend. While shopping for gifts, I take care in thoughtfully selecting something that shows my understanding and love for the recipient, instead of just focusing on the moment when he or she will open it up.

Even as I write this, I’m practicing awareness of my fingers typing, the feeling that this concept is important enough to want to share it, and how fortunate I am to be able to do so.


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Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

~John Lennon

Sure, I drank, but my drug of choice has always been planning.

What can I say? I love to plan. I plan my meals, outfits, workouts, workdays, weekends, vacations. You name it, I plan it. And, while I might not have been an extreme example of an alcoholic, I am an extreme planner.

Planning helps me feel (falsely) in control of my life. It’s one of the ways in which I try (and fail) to make life predictable. That plans fall apart and give rise to disappointment has not deterred me from trying to wrangle life’s uncertainties and secure them neatly in my iCal. That my planning causes me suffering – stress, distraction, an inability to stay in the present moment – suggests to me it is an addiction in its own right.

When you are a planner, it can be difficult to understand, let alone embrace, those who do not plan. My boyfriend happens to be one of those people. It’s not that he doesn’t plan; he plans quite a bit, in fact, and he’s very good at it. But he is selective, planning only what is necessary and leaving much of the rest to decide when necessary.

I don’t think this is a bad thing; it’s just a different style. But, when it comes to things that affect both of us, my planaholism and his planopenia clash like two Real Housewives from New Jersey.

Case in point, a significant birthday is approaching for him. I started thinking about what gift to buy him approximately 90 days in advance, about potential menu items should a party occur about 45 days in advance, and what I might wear to said party 14 days in advance. He actually decided to have a party about a week before the event and sent out an invitation a whopping 5 days before. Menu will be decided some time between now and when people start knocking on the door. And the party will be a great success.

“Discussing” our different styles the other night, he made a (maddeningly) accurate and revealing statement:

Jenna, you are very organized and plan things in advance. The result is usually very good but you stress out about it for weeks or months. I don’t plan until it is absolutely necessary so I don’t stress out except for the last 3 hours. And it’s usually pretty good too.

I hate it when he’s right.

Leo Babauta recently wrote a wonderful blog post about living with chaos, in which he suggests challenging the illusion of control and not making plans. This is a revolutionary – and terrifying – concept for me. But I must admit, what he says makes a lot of sense, which is essentially: plan what is necessary (and challenge the meaning of necessary) and as for the rest, be open to the unfolding moment.

Which has me thinking, maybe it’s time to switch to Plan B.

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I used to think that progress was measured in big lengths, 180-degree turns, dramatic change. Going Alicia Silverstone vegan rather than just cutting back on red meat. Giving up a promising and steady career to join the Peace Corps (as opposed to the somewhat less dramatic move of working for an admired non-profit).

The expectation that change must be extraordinary can, in and of itself, prevent meaningful – if small – progress.

Today is my 36th birthday. Like many people, I measure progress in my life in years. Where was I last year? Where do I hope to be next year? Birthdays afford us special opportunities to navel gaze. And for me, they have taken on additional significance: three years ago today, I took my last drink.

It was a glass of red wine from a lovely bottle given to me as a birthday gift by good friends. Several years earlier, one of those friends had given me a similar birthday gift, only that one was a jug of the cheap stuff, the label replaced with a hand-written one that read “Jenna’s Jug o’ Wine.” The jug was apparently reminiscent of a similar one I’d drunk all by myself at a party. Frankly, I don’t recall.

More than three years ago, a birthday without booze would have been like a day without sunshine. Not only could I not imagine a birthday (or any celebration) without alcohol, the drinking became the main focus of my attention. The food, friends, and conversation all took a back seat. Am I drinking too fast? Has anyone noticed I’m more than a little tipsy? Am I having enough fun???

To celebrate my birthday today, two friends came over (one of them the bearer of the famed jug) and I made pizza. We drank seltzer and ate cupcakes. We watched the utter drivel that is the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Doritos for the brain).

No one died from lack of alcohol and the celebration was no less special without wine or cocktails. Rather it was more special for their absence. A testament to the value of slow, steady progress, the daily discipline that allows any of us to make real lasting change.

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