It’s that time of the year again, closing out the old and opening the new. With the end of the year here, it’s the perfect time to conduct your own personal or professional Year in Review to gage your accomplishments and growth in 2019 before you set intentions for continued progress in 2020. If you work for an organization as an employee, reviewing you performance annually is a standard process, where you reflect on your initial goals, the progress you made toward them– noting any obstacles or challenges that lead to growth, and adopting new goals to stretch towards for continuous improvement in the new year. Whether you work in an organization or are your own boss, conducting your own Year in Review can be beneficial to identify and acknowledge where you spent your time and how you grew. Keep in mind, you don’t have to review only on positive outcomes or intentional goals; you can dip into the challenging stuff too and perhaps unveil a silver lining or lesson about the situation or yourself that you would not have learned otherwise.
This awareness can increase your self-efficacy (belief that you can do it) and agency (actually doing it), and help you move forward toward whatever goals you set for yourself in the future. By attaching gratitude to your Year in Review you can acknowledge how those experiences impacted your life today for the better and reinforce a positive outlook. And in doing so, you will additionally be improving multiple aspects of your health and well-being; physically, emotionally/psychologically and socially.
How to: Year in Review with Gratitude
As there are many roads to Rome, there are many ways to conduct a Year in Review with Gratitude. Check out the following and see if any resonate with you:
- Start with Importance: Start with the most important goals/projects/stuff that you intentionally took on in 2019. Review both your professional and personal life by asking and answering these questions:
- What was the goal?
- What did it involve?
- What was your role?
- What did you do?
- Who else was involved?
- What did others do?
- Are you ready to acknowledge your goal as complete, or are there lingering actions you need to roll into the new year?
- If your goal is complete, express your gratitude for this experience, those involved and how it impacted your life.
- If your goal is not complete, ask if this goal is still important?
- If not, can you let it go and simply gain from the lessons learned?
- If it is still important, what support or actions do you need to do to finish it? Chart those actions into your 2020 plan.
Following these steps for all your intentional goals/projects/stuff that you spent time on in 2019 and repeat it for all those things you took on that were both planned and not planned—in response to whatever arose during the year. If you can tie your goals and actions back to your values, you will also see how you lived by your values in the year.
My example: One intentional goal I completed at the beginning of 2019 was to renew my coaching credential with the International Coach Federation (ICF). To do this, I had to complete many sub-goals/tasks: 1) completing a specific number of hours of continuing coach education (CCEs) over the last 3 years; 2) engaging in a mentoring relationship over a specified time period with a certified ICF Coach; and 3) submitting the renewal application and attaching all supporting documentation of the above sub-goals. As a result of this multi-step effort, I was able to renew my credential and also provide my coaching clients with improved competencies across the board. In achieving this goal, I am now in the position to mentor other ICF coaches looking to earn or renew their credential.
In expressing gratitude, I am thankful: for the ICF organization for offering this route of renewal, and to the employees who processed my application; for the organizations who offered courses in service of enhancing my coaching skills, and to the teachers who presented new perspectives and tools to increase my effectiveness; and for my mentor who helped me create awareness to up-level my coaching, and understand the value of the continuous learning process. This goal aligns with my core values of contributing to others, leading and inspiring, expressing autonomy, and being a lifelong learner.
2. Start Chronologically: Conduct a chronological review of the year—month by month from January to December. Look back at your calendaring system or journal. Where did you spend your time? What was important about it? How do you feel now at the end of the year? Ask yourself the same questions as above, 1a-1h. You can use a table (such as an example below) to map these out visually:
|Month||Goal(s)||What you did||Your role||Others Involved||How it’s Impacted||Gratitude|
|January||1. 2. 3.|
|February||1. 2. 3.|
3. Start with your Values: Reflect on your values. What actions did you take this past year to support your values? How did you invest time, effort, and/or funds into supporting that value? How have you strengthened your commitment to this value? Write down your reflection, value by value. What did you learn about your situation or yourself as you look back on a value-driven life?
One Example: If you value physical well-being, what did you do to support your health this past year? Did you have your annual check-up? Did you start or maintain a fitness program? How about ramping up your sleep ritual to ensure healthy rest? Perhaps you tweaked your nutrition plan to include more vegetables and less carbohydrates? Whatever you did to support your values, write it down. And then give thanks. To whom do you wish to express gratitude for being able to take these actions and live by your values? Always be sure to include yourself in your gratitude circle– bringing compassion and recognition for making the effort to attend to those things that are/were important.
Notice the Impact of Your Year in Review with Gratitude
Whichever method you use to conduct your own Year in Review with Gratitude, take note of how you feel after. Do you have greater well-being? Are you more inspired to continue to conquer your goals? Will you be adopting bigger/bolder goals for this next year or scaling back and noticing how that influences where you spend your time—focusing on quality over quantity?
Life is a work in progress—there is no DONE state, until we are actually done. And at that point, wouldn’t it be reassuring to know that we lived a life we found fulfilling, and intentionally chosing our actions aligned with what we believed was important? Remember, it’s never to late to start living a life with intention and aligned with your values. Just meet yourself where you are and begin from there. Stop to pause for reflection during times of transition and then express gratitude for those experiences you have been blessed with in service to growing into the best version of yourself. You will be thankful you did!
Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend A Day of Practice with master teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn in Los Angeles through Insight LA. For those who don’t know him, Jon Kabat-Zinn is the father of mindfulness in the west, as he secularized this ancient 3,000-year-old practice and integrated it into the seminal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and clinic he founded in the late 1970’s. He is one of the main proponents in bringing mindfulness to as many sectors of our society as possible, to transform the way we relate to pain, stress, our minds, our emotions and each other.
On this practice day, I had the opportunity to deepen my own practice, choosing to come back to the present moment repeatedly, and see things (thoughts, emotions, situations, people, memories) for what they are, and not what my mind and story say they are. What I walked away with was the reminder that:
life itself is the real curriculum, the continuous meditation.
It is in our daily lives that we are offered moments of choice, where we can choose to wake up and notice what our minds are telling us, how we are feeling inside and out, and notice the richness of life unfolding before our eyes. In that unfolding, we can find opportunities to learn, not just about whatever the subject is, but learn more about ourselves and perhaps tap into and trust our inner wisdom and being. This is the power of waking up. Either on the cushion or off the cushion, the real power is in our awareness and choice. This is the power of mindfulness.
The curriculum that unfolds in life generally surrounds relating a healthy way. For example, relating to those important people in your life. The relationships between you and your parents, children, family members, friends and, of course, yourself are ripe for investigating conditioned reactions in any situation. How do you relate to another? Do you bring a bias with you before interacting? Do you anticipate one of the MANY ways of how the other MAY respond? Are you listening to what the other has to say fully before offering a response, or are you conjuring up what you will say before the last word leaves their lips?
How might attending to your conversations with a full heart and perhaps a beginner’s mind affect the dialogue and relationship? Test it out. With the next interaction you have, try stopping and pausing before reacting. End the multi-tasking, and engage with your presence to let the person you are conversing with know that they have your full attention. And then open your awareness. Hear what is being said. Observe body language. Tune into the moment and be curious. Reiterate back to confirm what you possibly heard. And then listen to the wisdom that arises in you (your intuition), and respond consciously. This simple act is not so simple to do. It takes commitment to direct your attention, and give yourself over to the moment and all that may arise, naturally. Many times, we want control over things: conversations, processes, and outcomes to name a few. What would happen if we gave the moment and the other person our full attention, and observe as a scientist would, what is happening outside and within?
So, sometime in your day today, ask yourself “What lessons may I learn from the curriculum of life? What choices will present themselves? How will I relate? Will I react on autopilot, or can I pause, disrupt how I normally react, and intentionally choose my response? Can I hear and see things clearly, with curiosity and without expectations or biases? How might these lessons affect my life and the people with whom I interact?” Investigate and then sit back, observe and allow your wisdom to surface. There is nothing to lose and potentially so much to gain. What will you choose? How will you relate? How will you respond?
To end this post, I’d like to share wise words that I was recently reminded of, from Arianna Huffington. Some food for thought for the curriculum of life:
“We have little power to choose what happens, but we have complete power over how we respond.”
These days, waking up each morning you don’t know what to expect in the World. It seems to be in so much chaos and upheaval. From the terror attacks in Europe to those at home, the physical and political threats of others for more power, and the recent events of Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath, the chaos and devastation feels more pervasive and prevalent than ever before. Add the 24/7 media coverage plus our negativity bias, and our reactivity circuits may be primed and ready to explode.
In this state, we may start to feel intense negative emotions: frustration, disgust, heartache, overwhelm and anger, leading to defensive and reactionary behavior. This behavior may be directed at the event initiators: individuals (Kim Jong Un), groups (neo-Nazis & white supremacist) and organizations (alt-right) holding certain ideologies and purposefully acting to benefit themselves at all costs. Intense emotions may also be brought on by mother nature, as she reminds us that we do not have the power to control everything. No matter who initiates the devastating events, we are consistently reminded the only thing we can control in these distressing times is our mindful response.
A participant in one of my classes asked, “What can I do when I’m angry and appalled at the behavior of our leadership in this country?” Another shared, “I want to do something to stop the hatred of the “isms”: racism, sexism, terrorism, but I’m not sure what to do.” And yet one more posed, “I want to lend a hand to those affected by the hurricane and storm in Texas, but I cannot travel to help.” Though their questions varied, all were looking for the same thing: answers or wisdom allowing them to contribute meaningfully and make a difference.
So, what can you do to find the answers you are seeking during these tumultuous times? How do you address the feelings inside yourself that arise in response to the unimaginable? Do you react with similar destructive behavior or do you listen to inner wisdom?
Answers we seek lay inside ourselves, we just need to tap into them. One way to tap in is through mindfulness and meditation: taking a moment to go off-line and drop inward. When we sit in meditation and focus on our breath or act in the present moment mindfully, we begin to build trust in our breath, ourselves and this moment. In cultivating this trust, we then know we can turn to our inner wisdom for the answers. Based on experiential knowledge we ask our intuition and heart, “What am I feeling? What do I need right now? What action do I need to take right now?” And we sit back, listen and trust in the answers that arise.
By dropping in and turning to our inner wisdom, answers and positive emotions arise such as compassion, altruism, acceptance and resilience. We then understand that these positive emotions are much stronger than the negative, and are motivated to act from this place of wisdom. Actions motivated by compassion and altruism are witnessed in the dangerous flood waters of Harvey, where a human chain of people connected to help another out of a life-threatening situation. Additionally, standing up for another being unconditionally because it is the right thing to do, acknowledges acceptance and our common humanity.
So, the next time you are stirred, agitated or moved by current devastating events, don’t just react. Instead, turn inward to find the answers you seek and mindfully ask, “What am I feeling? What do I need? What do I need to do right now?” Some answers may be the need to connect with the like-minded and unite efforts to support the health, safety and freedom of others. Another answer may be to meditate and send loving kindness wishes to those affected. If we feel outrage at intolerance, and the need for compassion, fair treatment, and respect, we may protest non-violently, role model exactly what we need, stand up to injustice and show compassion. Whatever questions you ask yourself, trust in the answers, and then do that thing.
Thich Nhat Hanh, world renown wisdom teacher, Zen master and peace activist said it so eloquently about inner wisdom:
“Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do to help.”
Seek your answers today, inside yourself. Your heart knows what to do. Just ask, listen, trust, and then act. Mindfully.
Have you let your meditation or wellness practices slide due to being swept up in the busy-ness of life? You know, the days when you have too much to do, and not enough time in which to do it. The days where you are on auto-pilot going from one destination to another, not really noticing the stuff in-between. Days when it takes all your being to keep up with your schedule, responsibilities and job or role demands, that at its end you feel exhausted physically or emotionally? Or worse yet, feeling like your brain will explode from too much mental stimulation and over thinking? On days like these it’s easy to postpone your meditation or wellness practices. And when these days begin to add up and become the norm, you can see how easy it is to lose your practices all together.
You might start feeling bad about not meditating, exercising, or whatever it is that you SHOULD be doing for your health. You may even beat yourself up over having “fallen off the wagon,” and give into alternative behaviors that are more destructive than healthy. In fact, these behaviors most likely conflict with your meditation or wellness practices. You may say to yourself, “I’m going to start back up again tomorrow,” however, tomorrow never comes. You may think, “Well, I’ve let it go this long, what’s another couple of days more?” As a result, this vicious cycle ends your practices all together. Don’t let these days add up and become the norm. Make your choice: meet yourself right where you are, and move forward.
I know about this intersection of busy-ness and wellness first hand. Although I’ve been meditating, engaging in gratitude practices, and other wellness exercises for some time, there are days where my practices are interrupted. Generally, these interruptions are due to legitimate life events that arise. If I don’t carve out an alternative time slot for the practice, it doesn’t happen. I’m sure this situation is common to many of us.
So how do you meet yourself right where you are, to reset your health and well-being? Experiment with the suggestions below, and notice what you experience as a result. Make a commitment to your health and well-being, and begin NOW!
7 Steps to Meet Yourself Where You Are and Move Forward
- STOP and BREATHE: Whatever you are doing, stop and focus on your breath. Take three slow, deep breaths in and out, taking in life and releasing what no longer serves you.
- RELEASE JUDGEMENT: Along with the breath, release judgement of yourself for letting whatever it is slide. Release the inner critic and any shame or guilt you feel.
- GIVE SUPPORT: Give yourself compassion and understanding. We are more likely to take action when we are feeling supported as opposed to feeling critiqued.
- LEARN to ACCEPT: Accept where you are right now, and let that place be alright. Knowing that today, you will make a choice to move you along in a healthy direction on your journey.
- ENGAGE in REFLECTION: Reflect on the importance of your practice, calling to mind why you value it, how it helps you and how it supports your life goals. Write these down reflections down (and post them in a visible place so you can re-visit them).
- PUT YOURSELF ON YOUR OWN CALENDAR: Take out your calendar and schedule in your practice, realistically. Include an If-Then plan, noting that IF an interruption arises, THEN you will practice in an alternative time slot. Identify that time slot before an interruption happens.
- SET SMART goals:
- SPECIFIC- Why are you practicing? What practice will you do? Where and when will you do it? Be as specific as possible.
- MEASUREABLE– How much time will you devote? How many sessions? How will you know you’ve met this goal? How will you measure that you are back on track and succeeding?
- ACHIEVABLE– Is the goal reasonable enough to accomplish? Is the goal over or below standard? How will you attain the goal? Do you have the skills/knowledge/support necessary to achieve it? Will you be required to stretch and seek further skills and knowledge?
- RELEVANT– Does your practice or goal fit with your long-term plans? Is it in alignment with your overall objectives? How relevant is this practice to your life?
- TIME BOUND- How much time should it take to accomplish your goal? Set a deadline by which to motivate yourself. Track your practice at a given time interval. Were you able to stay with your schedule and accomplish the goals for the week? For the month? For the time frame you identified?
Try implementing these 7 steps for meeting yourself right where you are, and notice how they move you forward. Start now and recommit yourself to investing in your well-being. As the philosopher and wisdom teacher, Lao Tzu, once said:
“A Journey of a Thousand Miles Must Begin with a Single Step.”
It’s up to you to take that step today! Start now, meeting yourself right where you are. Plan to practice, and practice to progress. Your current and future self will thank you for it later.
Today is World Health Day arriving just in time. Initially this post was going to share tips on how to keep your mind, body and spirit healthy: strategies you could apply right now to influence your well-being. However, considering the latest developments of violence in the world, perhaps it would be more effective to share strategies for how we, as a collective, can improve the health of the world.
Many people are feeling angered and outraged by what is happening in the world. These feeling arise because they alert us to the fact that something we care about is being threatened; humanity, freedom, equal rights, safety, etc.…. Conversely, it’s normal to feel sadness and fear as well. All these feelings are normal and justified, and when felt can lead us to action that brings health, safety, and peace to all. But how?
Learning how to interpret the signals of stress can help us align our actions with our values, and strengthen our health overall. We can do this by noticing the signals triggered by stress, how they show up in our bodies and minds, and remind ourselves that our bodies are preparing us for something: to act and engage, tend and befriend, or challenge and learn.
When we experience something that threatens us—physically, emotionally, or even psychologically (like a belief)– our brain sends out a stress response to our bodies. Normally, we view these responses as negative and harmful to our health. However, if we adopt the mindset that this felt condition of stress is helpful, and if we are mindful of how it is presented in the body, we can then choose more effective responses.
For example, when something triggers the stress response in you, notice what is happening in your body: your heart beat may increase, the blood to your legs and arms increases as does your energy, and you become more focused. Notice the physical sensations you are experiencing as well as the emotion by naming it or them. Instead of thinking, “This is stress and I feel anxious. I need to fight or run,” you could think, “This is stress and I’m feeling motivated because this issue is important to me. My body is preparing me to perform. It will give me the resources I need.” And then consider your choices: engage in actions that are aligned with your values; mobilize your energy for good with non-violent protests, serving others who are affected, or volunteering resources that you are able to contribute. Additionally, you may invest the energy in your body and exercise to build health so that you can contribute when needed.
Another response we can choose is to connect with others through the tend and befriend response. When you are stressed, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are circulating around your body. However, so is oxytocin which encourages you to reach out to others, receive support and give it as well. Tending and befriending is an innate response in humans, and cultivating this connection can build your resilience- in your mind, body and spirit. Oxytocin also helps our hearts recover from stress on a cellular level.
Yet another response we may adopt is the challenge and learn response. With this response, when we notice stress is in our bodies, we can be with them and think, “This is stress and I’m curious. What good can come from this? What can be learned? What healthy step can I take next?” Finding meaning or a benefit in a stressful event can help us cope in a healthier way.
Finally, (or perhaps initially) offer compassion, as seen in the traditional Loving Kindness Meditation to the world. Knowing that all beings wish to be free from suffering, offer these words of good will for all:
· May all beings be safe and protected
· May all beings be healthy and strong
· May all beings be peaceful and compassionate
· May all beings live this day knowing that we are all connected through our human experience. We all wish to be free from suffering.
This meditation has an impact on how you respond to others as well as yourself, with more compassion. What would our world be like if we all meditated with loving-kindness? Be part of the change and investigate for yoursef.
It seems that our country and the world is being divided more and more with each passing day. With the political climate being tumultuous, freedoms and rights continuously threatened, and uncertainty of what lay ahead– this is an extremely stressful time. What can result from this stress is overwhelm, overload (of news and information), and loss of health. With a weakened immune system, physical illnesses can creep in, such as headaches, tight muscles in our backs, shoulders and necks, and the likelihood of not being able to fight off a cold or infection. This increased stress and decreased immunity also affects psychological conditions which can bring on anxiety or depression.
Additionally, this type of stress also increases our emotional reactivity — heightening irritability, intensifying emotions, and sending us on autopilot with emotional reactions, which may then affect our relationships. So, instead of allowing the turbulence of the world to build up stress within you and affect you in negative ways, invest in your own self-care. Taking care of yourself during this time is essential, so that you may be healthy enough to take care of others, and answer any call to action in a healthy way. One self-care solution that not only reduces stress and reactivity, and increases clarity, connection and compassion at the same time is meditation. The world can use more of these qualities, especially connection and compassion right now.
Try doing a 5-15 minute Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) to reduce stress and cultivate compassion, not just for yourself and loved ones, but for the world in general. Loving-Kindness Meditation acknowledges that all beings want to be safe, happy, healthy and live without stress or suffering. It builds the connection of humanity and life by acknowledging the shared experience of existence. Start by offering these wishes to a dear one, then a neutral one, and finally (get ready for this) a difficult one. Be sure to include yourself in this circle of compassion as well. By consistently meditating with Loving-Kindness, you are building your resilience, immune system, the ability to empathize with others, and take responsive action. Studies show this type of meditation has a positive effect on vagal tone as well, which is our ability to bounce back after a stressful event. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson wrote on this type of meditation in her book, “Love, 2.0“. Check out her guided LKM, or the guided LKM I offer on this site. Moreover, wisdom teachers all over the globe are encouraging this type of meditation right now, to bring compassion to the world, who so desperately needs it.
Awareness of Breath Meditation
This type of meditation focuses your attention on your breath, and the sensations involved in breathing. Why do this type of meditation? Again, studies show it has positive effects on your physical and psychological health. It reduces the effects of stress, and re-wires your brain– lessening the potential for autopilot and emotional reactivity. Moreover, it brings you back to the present moment, which is the only one we have. Instead of wasting your energy on ruminating what “should have” or “might” happen, focus on what is happening right now. Not only does this type of meditation bring you back to the present moment, it reduces the likelihood of “flipping our lids” in that heated moment (being hijacked by the amygdala– the area of the brain responsible for emotional regulation– which is impulse-based).
On the other hand, sometimes stress and tension can be a catalyst for action. By doing this type of meditation focusing on your breath instead of the stressful issue, once calm and focused you may ask your intuition, “What can I do right now to effectively respond?” Trusting in our intuition is one benefit of meditation, along with seeing choices in a clearer way. No matter the situation in which you find yourself, this type of meditation has positive effects. There are many guided Awareness of Breath meditations online, such as the ones at MARC (Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA), or the 10 minute guided Awareness of Breath meditation I offer.
If you do not have 5-15 minutes to set aside to meditate, try taking three mindful breaths at the time that you need it. This can be done anywhere. Just tune into your body and the sensation of slowly inhaling deeper than normal through your nostrils, for a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of seven, and then slowly release it out through your mouth over a count of eight. Breathing this way three times can trigger the relaxation response, activating your sympathetic system to slow down and reduce the possibility of unhealthy autopilot and emotional reactions.
Choose Your Response
The suggestions above will not fix the world’s problems, but they will allow you to be in a non-reactive space where you may choose a response. And in the words of Viktor Frankl, “In that response lies our growth and freedom.” How will you let the conditions in the world affect you today? How will you grow? Exercise your freedom, and choose a healthy and effective response, with clarity and perhaps some compassion. What would happen in this world if all human beings meditated? Perhaps the spread of compassion, cooperation, and love? Reframing the quote by Gandhi into a question, “How will you be the change you wish to see in the world?” Starting right now, with this breath. Ask yourself this question. And then listen for the answer to arise.
With International Mindful Eating Day approaching January 26th, what better time than the present to evaluate how mindful you are towards nourishment? If you are like many other Americans out there, you may find yourself mindlessly eating. When we eat this way, we neglect our full experience around eating. We may grab something on the go and pay no attention to what or how much we are eating. Perhaps you’re multi-tasking; working, reading, watching TV, surfing the Internet or just doing other things while eating. Without paying attention to the experience of eating, we may overeat, for our minds are not registering what our bodies are doing. After all, it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to catch up to our bodies. Enter the feeling of being over full, and maybe a bit guilty around finishing those cookies, bag of chips, bottle of wine or <insert your vice here>. And then what do many of us do? We beat ourselves up over our choices.
In contrast to mindless eating, when we bring mindfulness to the table, we bring our awareness to the act of eating. We bring curiosity and begin to question our intent for eating. Are we really hungry, or are we looking to comfort or distract ourselves from doing something else, or feeling a certain way? We may notice our tendencies to like or dislike certain foods, as well as the conditioned rules we may have around eating in general. We begin to look at our food differently—noticing even the smallest nuances about our meal; the way it looks in color, texture, shape and density. We tune into the fragrance of our food, or the way it feels in our mouths as we take that first bite and then two more (after the first three bites the intensity of flavor and other qualities of food fade as our bodies adapt). We notice the sound the food makes as we chew. And we give plenty of time towards chewing to experience all we can. After swallowing the food, we may follow our awareness down into our stomachs and notice how it makes us feel. Has that bite made an impact? Remember, each bite adds up. And then we may ask our stomachs and our bodies, “Do I need more?” We ask our stomachs this because it is only concerned with volume; it has no interest in taste or filling an emotional void. And chances of us not needing more is great, as we attend to how we feel, what we think, and listen to our bodies: this is enough. This is the process of slowing down, pausing and eating mindfully.
So, my questions to you as we approach the International Mindful Eating Day, as noted by The Center of Mindful Eating: Do you check in with yourself regarding why you are eating? Do you intentionally slow down, notice and savor as much as you can about your food, the environment, and how your body, mind and heart respond? Do you bring non-judgement to the act of eating? What is YOUR experience? What do you want to cultivate with eating mindfully in 2017?
[If you are in San Diego, CA and interested in this subject, consider attending a free workshop on Eating Mindfully . If you want even more information, consider the 8-week course on Eating Mindfully, held on every Friday in February and March of 2017, from 9:30-11am PST at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center and the Balanced Mind Meditation Center.]
Is one of your 2017 resolutions or intentions to be healthier? Are you looking to relax and be calmer in life; deal more effectively with the challenges and stressors you are facing; and/or increase your focus and happiness? Then you might want to try meditating. Perhaps your doctor or a friend suggested you give meditation a try, but you have reservations. You are not sure you can meditate. After all, your mind is so busy and active with all the multitasking you do, and clearing your mind of all thoughts is highly unlikely. Or you do not have enough time to invest in meditation because your schedule is too demanding. You might even resist because you do not know where to begin. Whatever your reservations are with meditation, there are things you can do to get started with a practice of your own, starting with addressing these concerns.
Addressing Concerns: The “Too Busy” Mind
Yes, we are a busy and productive society, being rewarded for “doing.” Moreover, we are encouraged to multitask—getting as much done as we can, in as little amount of time possible. This multitasking, which is a misnomer—it’s really switch tasking or stopping/starting the process between two or more tasks– has limitations itself. Studies show that switch tasking affects our attention span, reinforcing our inability to focus for longer periods. This inability to focus is a cycle that perpetuates itself. Switch tasking also negatively affects the quality of what we do, adds more time to get it done, and drains our energy over a period of time. What meditation does for busy minds like this is to help them focus longer on one task, with better quality outcomes. Meditation is mind training, and multitaskers are not exempt from benefiting from this training. In fact, it seems to help them in the end. During meditation, we notice the nature of the busy mind, and when our attention shifts from our focus, we kindly and without judgment, notice the shift and bring our attention back to our focus. This focusing can help us in daily life, recovering from interruptions, and getting things done more effectively and on time.
Addressing Concerns: Clearing Your Mind of Thoughts
What follows from above is that, with meditation, we are not sitting and trying to clear thoughts from our minds. We are simply observing the nature of the thinking mind, and when our focus wanders or shifts– which it inevitably does FOR ALL OF US– we kindly and intentionally bring it back. Mindfulness meditation is about working with our attention to focus on something in the present moment. Noticing the shift of attention is the actual practice of meditation. If our mind shifts or wanders 5 to 50 to 500 times, we simply notice, and choose to return our attention back to refocusing 5 to 50 to 500 times. By observing the nature of the mind this way, we are able to recognize that our minds process a multitude of thoughts throughout our day, and we don’t have to be hi-jacked by, or react to a specific thought at that moment. We have the ability to pause and choose how we proceed.
Addressing Concerns: Investing Hours to Meditate
It does not take hours to meditate. One can meditate for that duration, but for beginners, we suggest you start off small and then build on. You can even start with taking 3 deep breaths at random times throughout our day, perhaps when you go through a doorway or transition to another space and role. You can also start with focusing for five minutes each day and increase this time slowly in five minute increments per week. Just know that meditation is dose dependent; the more you do, the more likely you will experience benefits.
Addressing Concerns: Where to Begin
Start a meditation practice meeting yourself exactly where you are. Don’t wait for an empty schedule to get started. That time may never come. Instead, start by taking five minutes out of your day, like in the morning when you get up, or right before you go to bed. Invest this small amount of time to build the foundation of your practice, framing it as self-care. Consistently practice every week, at the same time if you can. Determine what schedule works best for you, and where you can fit it in. And then do it. Many beginners start with guided meditations to help stay on track, and be reminded of refocusing. These meditations will guide you gently, and without judgement. (Check out this 5-minute guided Mindful Transition Meditation by Merry). And that is how we suggest you treat yourself as you begin your own practice; kindly and without judgment. And then just do it…and notice what arises as a result.
Beginning a Meditation Practice
1. In a quiet environment, sit comfortably in a chair keeping your back straight, sitting in a dignified, yet relaxed and stable way (a pillow or towel behind the lower back can support you, as will sitting midway on the seat, with your feet on the floor). Set a timer for five minutes, or follow a guided meditation.
2. Allow your eyes to close if that feels comfortable, or just gaze downward at the floor, letting your arms rest gently in your lap.
3. Begin by taking three deeper than normal breaths; breathing in slowly through your nostrils, and out slowly through your mouth—extending the out-breath for a longer amount of time than the in. This begins to trigger the relaxation response in your body.
4. Now, return your breathing to a normal pattern—not controlling it, tuning into your breath wherever you sense it most strongly in your body. You may feel it at the tip of your nose, as the cool air comes in, or at the ribcage as your chest rises and falls with each breath cycle. You may feel it at your abdomen, contracting and expanding as well.
5. As you breathe in, focus on what it feels like to be breathing in. What sensations do you notice in your body? What qualities of the breath do you notice? Just observe your experience as you sense it.
6. When your mind starts thinking, or shifting to other things as minds naturally do, just notice this thinking activity, and choose to kindly and without judgment return your attention to your breath, and the movement of breathing in your body. Stay with it for a few minutes. No need to judge or be harsh with yourself as your mind thinks. Simply return the focus every time you notice the shift.
7. To help align your mind with the movement in your body, as you breathe in mentally whisper to yourself, “breathing in.” And as you breathe out, mentally whisper to yourself, “breathing out.” You can even shorten it—to “in” and “out” respectively. This can help keep your mind focused on the sensations of breathing in your body, uniting them together as you sit, alert.
8. End the meditation with the sound of the timer, letting your focus of attention go and congratulate yourself for taking time out of your busy schedule to invest in your well-being. Wiggle your fingers and toes, and bring your awareness to the room in which your body is sitting. Allow your eyes to open gently.
Meditation allows you to work out your mind, as you would your body. Studies show various benefits can be realized by meditating on a regular basis. Know that there are many different kinds and styles of meditation, and the one suggested here is based on mindfulness. Do what works for you, as this is your practice. You will get as much out of it as you put into it.
If you’d like to check out some guided meditations, go to my Resources page or listen to my guided 5-minute Mindful Transition Meditation . Also, a variety of meditation apps are available for smart phones or online. The next blog post will focus on a few of these, such as “Calm”, “Headspace”, “Chill” and “Insight Timer.” Check back soon for more information on these apps, and how they may help you in your practice.
Until then, be well, be merry, and just breathe!
Welcome 2017! Sending out a wish of Loving Kindness to all beings: In this New Year, May we all be peaceful, safe, healthy, happy and live with moments of ease!
So, how do you plan to start off your New Year? With a list of resolutions of what you need to change, or by listing intentions of what you wish to create in your life this year? Whatever route you take, try bringing your values into the picture, mindfully. They can help guide you at any crossroad you encounter in the moment, when you are trying to decide between one thing or another. Reflect on your values and then make a choice that is aligned with what you hold important, to live more authentically.
Revisit Your Values
Start by revisiting your values. Make a list of your values on a piece of paper or post it, and put it somewhere visible in your workspace or home. Or you can create a note on your phone to bring up at any time. Identify your values, listing them as overall categories: Health, Family, Career, Recreation, Nature, etc…. You can expand these categories with details that fall under that heading. For example, if I appreciate time with family, the value would be listed as “Family,” and under that category I would identify the family relationships that are important to me: mom, daughters, son, sisters, nieces, nephews, etc…. I can also list family rituals that are important to me which involve family members.
Brainstorm Activities that Support the Value
Make another list. Brainstorm acts or activities that you can do to support the value. In my case, with Family as the value, my list of activities that I can do to support or strengthen this may include calling on the phone or video conferencing at least 1x a month, sending a text or email weekly, setting up monthly or quarterly dates to be with those important people, and acknowledging birthdays or other special events. Think about creative or novel ways for you to support these values. Is there a way to support two or more values with one activity? For example, if I value family, nature, health and physical activity, I may suggest to my kids a hike at the beach or lake. I make sure to remind myself of the main value being supported, so that I don’t have major values vying for my attention.
Fit the Supportive Activities on Your Calendar
Schedule those supportive acts on your calendar. Look at your daily, monthly or yearly calendar and note– what events occur naturally in each month, i.e. birthdays, holidays, special celebrations, etc…? Where might you intersperse a few ideas from your brainstormed list? Are there better times of the year to participate in certain activities? And, if you need buy in from other people, make sure to give them advance notice to fit it into THEIR schedule.
Reflect on Values When at a Crossroad
When you come to a decision point and need to assess how to spend your precious gift of time, reflect on your list of values to remind yourself of what is important. If the choices do not support your values, what other options do you have? Can you say “no” to something that is not aligned with your beliefs? For example, if my work-life balance is out of whack, and I have an opportunity to spend more time at work, or some time with my family– given family is important to me, I may choose family at this time. Or perhaps I have “self-care time” on my calendar, and a new work opportunity arises. If self-care is important to me, saying “no” to the other opportunity allows me to say yes to my value of self-care. Know that at every crossroad, you have the option to choose. Try making the choice based on what you hold important, and live in accordance with your values.
Ask “What do I value?” Answer Honestly, and Support Your Beliefs
Bring more authentic living to your days by taking the time to check in and notice: what is important to you? What do you value? What brings you life or joy? In what activities or roles are you involved that you lose track of time? Where does your passion lay? What makes you feel fulfilled? Asking these questions, and then honestly answering them are the first steps. Revisit those values, make room to support and live by them, and then notice how much healthier and satisfied you feel. Make this year one in which you strengthen and cultivate a more authentic you! Do it today… value the gift of this day that has been given to you… your time is now!
We’ve hit that time of year again, New Year’s Eve, where you may look back in time and assess your life. You may ask yourself, “What did I do this year to support myself on a healthy journey? How, where and with whom did I spend my time? Did I meet my goals or readjust my expectations? How did I progress or regress during the year?”
Sometimes in this process of reflection, we get stuck ruminating on how something SHOULD have ended up, or how things SHOULD be right now. This cycle of ruminating may influence how you feel overall, and keep you in that downward spiral. So instead of dwelling in the land of SHOULD HAVE/SHOULD BE, I’d like to invite you to cultivate one of the attitudes we encourage in mindfulness meditation- that of letting go.
When we sit in formal meditation, we are encouraged to let go- of expectations of how OUR PRACTICE is supposed to be (effortless, producing a certain outcome, etc…), how OUR BREATHING is supposed to be (holding for how many seconds, where we are supposed to feel it, etc…), and how OUR MINDS are supposed to be (clear, quiet, not busy, etc…). To support this letting go, we also cultivate acceptance -allowing for our experience to be just as it is. Even if we find our minds wandering numerous times, as they naturally do. By accepting our level of attention- in this case, a busy mind in this moment- we are able to let go of how it should be different. This acceptance allows us to see we cannot control every moment, and that some, if not all, processes need to unfold on their own schedule.
Moreover, we also see by the power of acceptance that when we get to a crossroad, or decision point, we notice where the mind goes and choose to bring it back to our object of focus (breath, sound, image). We allow for our minds to behave this way as they naturally do, noticing, and then redirecting without judgment.
When we sit in meditation, we are training our minds– with these attitudes. By having a consistent practice, we may find some of these attitudes flowing out into our daily life. We are able to let go more, or find it more natural to let go– of expectations we hold for ourselves and others. We are able to let go of how situations SHOULD be, and allow them to unfold as they naturally would. We are able to see the past as just that– something that has ALREADY happened– which we can no longer change. We may let go of beliefs and rules that no longer serve us. Or let go of relationships- be it friendships or more- that also no longer support us.
Letting go means releasing your embrace, and allowing and trusting in a process to naturally unfold. With this trusting in the natural flow of things, we are strengthening our own trust in ourselves: our intuition, decision making and more.
As you can imagine- meditation does more for us than just sitting still on a cushion or whereever we sit. The attitudes practiced in meditation can overflow into daily life, and bring us back to what we have: this current moment.
So, as you go thru this eve of the new year, bring into your awareness this attitude of letting go. And then notice what comes next? What arises out of the possibility of not knowing but allowing for the moment to unfold. Let go of the way things SHOULD be and accept them as they are. And then notice how letting go may affect your mind, body and heart. Be with whatever arises– knowing there is a natural flow to this moment, to this life.
Happy New Year!
Be well, be merry, be you!