With less than 24 hours away from a new year, it FINALLY might be the right time to think about what is coming next in our lives. And before you launch into goal setting, intention creating and vision boarding for what you want to manifest in 2016, have you taken the time to say goodbye to the current year, 2015, and all the gifts she has presented along the way? Our 24/7 culture glorifies the busy-ness of life, telling us to forge a head and fill our calendars with goals to accomplish, appointments to make, feats to overcome, all the while transforming ourselves and our world, for the better every day. How many of us live day to day, week to week, month to month checking things off from our to-do lists or bucket lists and not looking back? When is there ever enough time to look back?
Over this past year, you may have found yourself asking, “Where did that week or month go?” I used to ask myself this question too many times in the past. For many years, I lived my life that way; finishing one project and jumping into the next (or more realistically, multi-tasking all the while—working on too many projects simultaneously while my plate was too full). Sometimes, we give ourselves permission to “reflect” a bit; recap what worked, what didn’t and what we will do differently next time. Many people do this in their professional lives, but how many of us do this in our PERSONAL lives? How many of us would benefit from doing this in our personal lives? You may have heard the quote by Henry Cooke, “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.” This year, I challenge you to take some time BEFORE the New Year arrives, before making other plans, to respectfully look back over this past year of your life and give some “Thanks” for the days you have lived.
Looking back and giving thanks not only honors the experiences you lived this year, it also brings perspective. In doing so, perhaps you may recognize those significant life “dots”—you know, the questionable events that happen where you are not sure of their significance at the time, or moments where you may have had difficulty making a decision at a fork in the road but decided to follow your gut and landed in a new place. Or maybe there are experiences to look back on where you may not understand why you had to go through a horrible or trying situation, and then in retrospect, when you look back, you understand the importance. These life events or dots help us identify where we’ve been, where we’ve landed, and may give us confidence and a sense of direction as to where we are going.
In the commencement speech he gave to Stanford University Graduates in 2005, Steve Jobs noted:
“…You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
Steve was referring to the challenging times in his life and turning points, such as dropping out of college, being fired from Apple, and being diagnosed with cancer. His underlying message was that if those things, which were unfortunate and devastating at the time, did not happen, he would have taken a different path and not ended up where he did—leading Apple once again, and launching a variety of new industries (personal computing, desk top publishing, movie animation, digital music, cell phone and mobile apps to name many industries he influenced). The world would definitely be different than how we know it now.
Lastly, Jobs noted how the dots connect, and that though we may not see how they connect at the time, and understand their importance, we need to trust in ourselves (“your gut, destiny, life, karma…”) that they will connect and that they will lead us to exactly where we need to be. Going back to connect the dots can bring us a sense of connection with our own time line, and aid us in going forward with more confidence.
Try this exercise: before ringing in 2016, look back over 2015 month by month. If you kept a gratitude journal or even a regular reflection journal, now would be the time to revisit and reread what you wrote from an earlier time in the year. If you are not the journaling type, no problem. In that case, mentally reflect what stood out to you in your life month by month. What experiences, both good and bad, stretched you in a new direction, lead you to a different place than you envisioned, or caused you to reevaluate your life? Acknowledge the events and give gratitude to them all—even the bad. Think of the unfortunate events with a reframed mind—as Steve Jobs did, as silver linings— finding some redeeming aspect of the event enabling you to learn something about yourself and/or others. You can chose to grow post traumatically in these situations by doing some internal work—reflection helps tremendously with that growth.
By saying “thank you” to all the experiences in our past year, we can feel good about where we are, and more confident in where we will go. I will be spending my day revisiting this year, thanking her for the opportunity to live those days. I will shed a tear here or there, I am sure. But I will also smile. And with each tear and smile I mindfully acknowledge, I will give thanks for being able to feel those emotions too. After I say good bye to this year, I will greet the New Year with strengthened inner resources I need to live my tomorrows. May your 2015 bring you the strength you need to greet 2016 with a smile, and may know you have what it takes to make this New Year exactly what you need it to be!
Tis the season to “be merry”, which is something I get to be quite often, since that is my given name. But what does this phrase really mean? To just be happy all the time? Merriam Webster online dictionary offers:
Personally, I’d like to offer two more definitions as food for thought:
- CHOOSING (this is the keyword here) happiness AND focusing on the good,
- CHOOSING to be authentically yourself.
Let me unpack these tweaked offerings, and offer examples of how you may want to apply them.
- CHOOSE happiness and focus on the good.
Happiness is a choice. So is feeling good. Now, I know I’ve said this before as a Science of Happiness Facilitator, life should not be about squashing or eliminating the negative. In fact, one wise guru once said, “In order to know happiness we must first know pain.” Life is full of ups and downs, ebbing and flowing all the time. It is the consistent changing nature of nature.
And recognizing and acknowledging all aspects of life realistically makes for a healthier person. Recognizing that pain and violence are present or even rampant in life, as with the case of the recent mass shootings, or the oppression of souls near and distant, is natural to focus on (as the media does), and it does incite rage and motivation to change laws and behaviors. But solely focusing on the violence and pain can send us into a state where we notice it’s pervasiveness—and that is all we see. Once we have these glasses on, we tend to tune out the good. We are primed for the negative.
This season I encourage you to acknowledge what is happening in the world and your own life, and then take steps to intentionally choose the good. Choose happiness. “Be merry”. Just for a moment.. This moment perhaps. Science shows us the effects of happiness and positive emotion can have great benefits: building our resiliency psychologically, physiologically, socially and spiritually. Drs. Barbara Frederickson and Robert Emmons are two researchers from University of North Carolina and the University of California respectively, whose work supports this claim and worth checking out. They are referenced on BeingMerry.com in the Resources section.
So, is it that easy and a no-brainer to “choose happiness”? No, it’s not, especially when life presents constant and continuous challenges, so many that it’s hard to get a good breath in edgewise. During these hard times, it is important to be reminded of “being merry” and choosing the good. When we dwell on things that are not going our way, we get into a fixed mindset as Dr. Carol Dweck describes, and believe that we cannot really influence our own outcomes. This type of thinking can lead to a downward spiral, sending us further into a dark place. And ironically, we don’t need that extra push as humans already have a tendency to notice the negative – as seen in our negativity bias which may have assisted our ancestors in propelling us forward, but limits us today as we get stuck in the negative stream.
Instead of having a fixed mindset this season, think of adopting a growth mindset, one flavored with mindfulness, that sees events as things that happen, allows them and then realizes each of us can influence how far down we fall, and how we can choose to exert effort to change direction. I challenge you to adopt this mindset this season, and choose “being merry“.
Try this practice: when you see, hear or read the words “be merry” look for, or think of, something good in your environment and choose to focus on it for 3-5 seconds, noting it as you breathe it in. Or if you prefer, imagine a dear one who naturally puts a smile on your face. As you focus on the good thing/dear person, notice what you are feeling. What sensations arise? Warmth, contentment, awe, gratitude or maybe nothing except a slight smile. Whatever arises, let it just be there. And savor for one more moment—an extra 3 breaths. Taking even a small break for a micro moment of positivity will pay off for you in more ways than you can imagine (see Barbara Fredrickson’s work for more information).
2) be merry = choosing to be your authentic self
Every day when I’m “being merry“, I ask myself, “What do I need most right now?” And then I wait and listen for the answer, which tends to come from my intuition. Steve Jobs, one of the most inspiring leaders and inventors we’ve seen in a long time, really speaks to being authentic and following your own voice and heart in the commencement speech he gave to Stanford University graduates in 2005:
“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drowned your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Try this practice: As you see or hear the words, “be merry”, I encourage you to drop the last 3 letters (“rry”) and say to yourself, “be me.” This holiday season, make choices based on your intuition and authentic self, the one who is honest, knows what you want, and knows you best. Don’t go along with a decision or group think if it feels wrong. Check in with your intuition (or your gut) and have faith and trust in yourself. Follow that voice and know that it will not lead you astray. And finally, adopt that growth mindset to which I referred early, knowing that YOUR efforts (thoughts and actions that you intentionally choose) can make a huge difference in your day, holiday season, and your life in general!
Now that you have two more ways to think about “being merry”, which one resonates most with you most? Feel free to drop me a line/message to let me know how this practice works for you?
And remember, not just for this holiday season, but for the seasons of all holidays…
Stay calm and be merry…
your body, mind and spirit will thank you for it!
Recently, I had the opportunity to take a small group of uniquely inspired ladies on a retreat at the Keys Creek Lavender Farm, out in the country setting of Valley Center– which is about 30 miles from San Diego, CA. In this space known for growing, healing and well-being, we spent the day focusing on and celebrating “The Self”. We weren’t cultivating conceit, self-righteousness or self-absorption. What we were doing was finally giving ourselves permission to treat us the way we treat others in life… with love, kindness and compassion. Spending time to focus on ourselves is not commonly encouraged in our western culture, where to get ahead (and sometimes just to make ends meet) we work the extra hours doing as much as we can, in addition to taking care of those around us, and responding to their needs– be it our significant others, children, parents, pets, etc…. As women of the 21st century, we are conditioned to do it all: juggling work, family and home life. We rinse and repeat these conditions all the time. Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, sometimes we run out of time to do it all, and find ourselves stressed out, burned out and most of all– out of balance.
It’s All About the Selfie Retreat allowed these women to regain balance and well-being, and give themselves the care they need. They had the opportunity to slow down and experience life focusing on the present moment. They asked themselves questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I need?” They did this through various reflective exercises, mindful meditations and intentional activities that supported savoring the moment and experiences. They participated in strengths finding, walking meditation, mindful yoga, mindful eating (nourishing themselves with purpose), sending loving-kindness to their loved ones, themselves and the world, and mindful self-talk—applying self-compassion techniques to cultivate both positive emotion and to use as coping tools when things don’t go as planned.
There’s not enough time and space to describe the full retreat in one post, so I’ve broken the day down into a few posts with this being installation #1. By the way, The Selfie Retreat is a staple service of BeingMerry.com, and is scheduled to happen at least once per calendar quarter. For this post, I’d like to focus on the mindful walking meditations that promoted self-love, self-care and gratitude.
Mindful Walking Meditation
We held a few different perspectives during our walking meditation, where we either focused or opened our awareness intentionally as we moved through nature, from a vintage barn setting where the ceiling was covered with bunches of drying lavender, to the labyrinth space where a magnificent crystal sits at the center. We initially focused our awareness on the sensations of walking – noticing the sensations in our leg muscles moving us through this space, the functioning of our joints supporting our bones, and our feet touching the ground and propelling us forward. We also focused our attention on our breathing—the intake of air at our nostrils, the releasing of stress in our exhale, the rising and falling of our chests or abdomens, and the opening of our hearts as we took in all of these sensations. We were aware of feeling of gratitude inside ourselves, for the ability to walk, breathe and exist without too much difficulty in those moments.
Our focus of awareness shifted once we reached the rock-lined labyrinth. These structures are unlike mazes as they have only one starting and ending point, which are one in the same. Labyrinths have been used throughout history in many cultures and over many centuries as a symbol of one’s spiritual journey, among other things. As we slowly walked through the labyrinth, we contemplated our life’s own journey, accepting all that we have gone through that has led us here to this moment. Sometimes the difficult times we experience are hard to accept, however, if we reframe those times and look for the silver linings (the lessons we learned as a result of those hard times), we see that without both the good and the bad times, we would not be exactly where we are today.
We ended our walk with an open awareness meditation, sensing and savoring our surroundings. In this type of meditation, we are encouraged to notice everything around us employing as many senses as we can. We notice the strength and temperature of both the breeze and the sun on our skin, as well as the aroma of the sweet lavender and fresh outdoors, and finally the songs of the birds chirping nearby and the sound of feet shuffle along the dirt path. Looking at the trees we pass, we notice the texture of the bark and the shape and color of the leaves with all their gradients. We are aware of our feet on the dirt path, and realize that many before us have walked this way as well. We may feel a sense of common humanity—being a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We feel a sense of awe and gratitude for life itself—all around us, and the ability to be a part of it. We realize that we are so very blessed.
How will you take time for yourself today? Trying going for a walk in nature.
But don’t take my word for it… try a walking meditation for yourself. Focus your awareness on your bodily sensations, or open it up to nature and the world, noticing all her splendid details. Try one perspective and then the other. Explore which twist of mindful walking resonates with you. There are other things you can think about (or sense) on a mindful walk (in each step “you arrive”, in each step “you are home”—Thich Nhat Hahn encourages this perspective). The main point is that you focus your awareness, or open it up. When you find your mind wandering, as it will during meditations, just bring it back kindly to the object of your focus or intention. This kind of slowing down, and focusing or opening does not only change your body (giving it a break from the crazy running around many of us do), but also your brain (rewiring the stress response) and spirit (responding with awe and offering gratitude) as well. Try it as your-SELFIE just may thank you for it!
Having just seen Pixar’s new animated movie, “Inside Out” with my kids, I was reminded of my last blog post on transitions—and how, though I brought up using strengths, gratitude and mindfulness through transitions, I did not give as much screen time to mindful self-compassion. Perhaps this is because mindful self-compassion has become second nature to me— as I now use it on a daily basis. Another reason why I may not have devoted much time to it is paradoxical: though I use mindful self-compassion daily, many people still do not know about it and/or find it difficult to offer it to themselves. Although in the movie the main character, Riley, did not use mindful self-compassion per se, we do see how compassion and empathy in general can assist someone in moving forward to make things better. In the movie, which is all about a child’s transition in moving homes, we see how important it is to recognize and acknowledge one’s feelings, whatever they may be—especially sadness or some other negative emotions, to move forward. Those negative feelings and emotions do have a role in life, particularly in transitions.
Applying the concept of mindful self-compassion through transitions allows us to accept what is happening right now, especially the difficult times or when we are not meeting up to our own standards, and offer ourselves what we need through kindness, mindfulness and the concept of common humanity. The kindness we offer ourselves in a transition can come through many channels: kind words (e.g. I am here for you sweetie), kind tone (like that of a compassionate friend), and a soothing touch— like placing your hand over your heart– facilitates the flow of oxytocin (the feel good hormone). As we offer ourselves kindness, we can also apply mindfulness: acknowledging the feelings/emotions (labeling it i.e., “this is difficult/this hurts”), and being with those feelings without judgment (holding it in awareness without blaming or criticizing oneself). Additionally, by noticing where the sensations are felt in the body (headache, heart ache, neck or shoulder ache, etc…), we can start to separate the emotional feeling from any physical pain we may be experiencing. With mindfulness we realize that feelings/emotions and thoughts are fleeting and dissipate quickly, which lessens their intensity. Mindfulness also helps us stop over-identifying with our story (“I just can’t keep a job or a relationship!”) or ruminating with our thoughts (“what if I never find a perfect job or partner?”), and brings us back to the present moment.
In applying kindness, we begin to soothe ourselves and act from a place of openness and love, rather than from fear, guilt or shame. In applying mindfulness, we become calmer, and end up in a much better position to act in a healthier way. Mindful self-compassion incorporates these two ideas and a third component: common humanity. This component illustrates how we are not alone in our discomfort, suffering, and transition. Other people suffer as well, because that is the nature of the human experience. Transitions do bring change. Change can be perceived as stress and our thoughts on the change can elicit an emotion in us, making us feel bad and sad. And when we feel bad or sad, we tend to draw inward and isolate ourselves which starts us on a downward spiral. This concept of common humanity speaks to the isolation by encouraging us to see those around us in the same boat, and reach out to accept help. Common humanity reminds us that we are all interconnected… not one of us is alone in our suffering or transitions. Everyone goes through transitions as they are a part of the life cycle.
Using Mindful Self-Compassion through transitions allows us to shift our perspective—accepting and coping with the feelings we experience as the old door closes. Mindful self-compassion enables us to look at that new door with a different mindset; one that is soothed, present and connected or supported. A mindset that is healthy, open and curious as to what may lie ahead.
I finish this post with a favorite poem that illustrates the role of human feelings/emotions and mindful self-compassion eloquently, as written by Rumi back in the 1500’s:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
By Rumi, Translation by Coleman Barks
Self-Compassion.org—Researcher and major proponent, Kristin Neff’s, website with information and great tools.
Center for Mindful Self-Compassion—Founded by Chris Germer, Kristin Neff, Steve Hickman and more….
Tara Brach’s website– Author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha and a lot more
Mindful.org– Online and in print magazine
“When one door of happiness closes; another opens
but often we look so long at the closed door
that we do not see the one that has opened for us. “
How true does this quote ring for you? How many times have you said goodbye to a phase of your life longing to get it back, whether it be time, youth, or experiences that have ended? Are you clinging to the past and looking at the door that’s closed, not realizing there’s another one opening with experiences to be felt and growth to be realized?
This quote especially resonates with me, as I explain below. It’s that time of year when many people are transitioning from one thing to another- closing one door and crossing over to open another- be it graduating from school starting their summer, moving on to a new job or relationship, getting married, raising a family, saying goodbye to a loved one through divorce or death, or just saying goodbye period. We are all transitioning and living the cycle of life.
This year my oldest child is transitioning as she has graduated from high school. She has worked diligently during the last four years and is now preparing to open that next door leading to her college experience, and ultimately a professional career. Doors are opening and closing all the time. Even at such a young age, over the last four years many doors of happiness have closed for my daughter while other ones have opened. Thankfully, she chose to look to the new doors instead of dwelling on the old. One of the closed doors involved her passion for dance. During her freshman year she incurred a vertebrae fracture from overusing it in dance. As an avid competitive dancer, this was a huge blow as the doctor ordered her to rest for 6 months to allow her body to heal. Her dance door had definitely closed. When this happened my daughter looked to a new open door labeled “other creative avenues” and walked in. By taking the steps to cross over to that new experience, and not looking back with sadness, she rediscovered her passion for creative writing, photography, video production, and drawing.
She gave herself permission to express her creativity in a different way. Creativity is one of her strengths and this is what made all the difference… falling back on her strengths to get through this rough patch. In the end, the injury was a blessing in disguise for it allowed her to experiment and use her creativity to cope and flourish in new ways. In the end, my daughter healed and returned to dance with more vigor and commitment. We are very grateful for the talents and skills of the doctors, physical therapists, and her own resilience in helping her mend.
My daughter had many other doors close in high school, yet she chose not to dwell and look back, but look forward to the new doors that were opening. This is where she learned much of her life lessons—not in the rooms on the high school campus, but in the thresholds of life transitions.… transitioning through the known doorways and into the unknown. Using her strengths, she was able to cope with hard times and propel forward to create a new version of herself.
When she walks through that next doorway in life (college), she will bring those lessons with her– from both sides of the doors– for they have shaped her into whom she is today. . As she prepares to live life “on her own,” I have no worries that she will remember these lessons, remember to look towards the open door, and apply her strengths to embrace the experiences that await her. She will get through those experiences knowing that there are lessons to be learned, and that they will add layers of richness to the canvas of her life.
As I transition into my next doorway, saying goodbye to a long term marriage and walking toward a new version of me, I use my strengths—as I have learned from my daughter. Crossing the threshold I exercise gratitude. I look back at the old door not to dwell, but to be thankful for those experiences that have lead me to this new place. Some memories were happy, and others less so, but they were authentic experiences nonetheless that helped me become who I am today. I am mindful to recognize and accept this. And as I pause at that threshold, I apply a mindfulness teaching known as “STOP,” to really acknowledge and feel the moment for what it is. With this technique:
S is for stop. halt. pause.
T is for take a deep breath. One or even three.
O is for observe what I am thinking, feeling, and experiencing both inside, and in the world around me; and
P is for proceeding with openness, kindness, and curiosity.
By mindfully STOPping… I allow myself to feel the whole range of emotions (sadness, happiness, and gratitude) as I experience the closed door. I sit with who I am at that moment. I am grateful for who I am at that moment. I look to the open door and walk over the threshold with strength and humility, and a sense of curiosity at the new opportunities that lay ahead.
Another gratitude practice that helped me transition from the old door to the new was to:
- list 5 people who made a difference on the other side of the old door, and for whom I am grateful.
- list 5 things and or places for which I am grateful that I was exposed to by being on the other side of the closed door.
- list 5 aspects about myself that I’ve gained from that experience; i.e. strengths I’ve observed within. I take this last list with me as I cross the new threshold– these are some of my strengths that will keep me in motion, and moving forward.
What door has closed for you on which you keep staring back? Have you accepted the closure of the old door? What door has opened that you have yet to acknowledge and explore? What strengths can you call upon to help you through that next doorway, in a healthy way? What do you look forward to as you cross the threshold and move through the new door way? What strengths can you cultivate by walking through that new door? Where will this new door take you? How much will you grow?
I end this post with this quote:
“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”
Using our strengths, we can get through any obstacle and transition from one door to the next. Know that transitions allow us a time to reflect, pause and dream. They can weave richness into the fabric of our lives. Look for the good in closure and the hope of a new beginning. Gratefully reflect on the closed doors for what they are, and how they have served you. With an open curious mind, dream of the possibilities that lay ahead. Search inside yourself for your strengths and apply them to the closed door, open door, or both. Be mindful of your transitions, and grateful that they give you time to pause. Share what works for you with transitioning with your friends and family. Use your transitions to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Start with yourself. And you will find you are happier.
To uncover and understand your strengths check out VIA Character Strengths. Looks like they have an online course on how to manage transitions. Perfect timing!
To learn more about gratitude, check out:
To learn more about mindfulness, check out:
As we begin our routines today, I’d like to ask you to contemplate happiness and what it means to you. Even though there is a lot of havoc and tragic events taking place in the World (when is there ever a lack of it?), three years ago the United Nations declared this day, 3/20, the International Day of Happiness. They proposed a celebration to increase the awareness of happiness for ALL human beings, independent of their life situation… even if things can, must, require to get better.
The Secretary-General of the UN published this message on the UN Website:
- The pursuit of happiness is serious business.
- Happiness for the entire human family is one of the main goals of the United Nations.
- Peace, prosperity, lives of dignity for all – this is what we seek.
- We want all men, women and children to enjoy all their human rights.
- We want all countries to know the pleasure of peace.
- We want people and planet alike to be blessed with sustainable development, and to be spared the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
- Let us give thanks for what makes us happy.
- And let us dedicate our efforts to filling our world with happiness.
So many aspects of this message resonated with me. “The pursuit of happiness is serious business.” With our busy lives these days, sometimes it’s difficult to attend to our happiness and the happiness of others, as we are caught up in what needs to happen next, goals, deadlines, checking the next thing off our growing lists, and getting to that next destination in time. Often we lose track of the journey, and take much for granted along the way (like our freedom of living in a democratic society “We want all countries to know the pleasure of peace.”). As stress and depression rise in this country and all over the world, happiness becomes a bi-product that is forgotten or considered frivolous. But it is this frivolous state that enhances our well-being and improves our healthy psychologically, physically and socially. It is this frivolous state that can bring us a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives. It is this frivolous state that keeps us going.
When we intentionally do something that speaks to our happiness, the world around us experiences an upward spiral that touches anyone in its path, and becomes a happier place. What does that mean? Happiness is a result of and breeds love, kindness, compassion, gratitude, good will and so many more positive states which we can give to each other as gifts, as well as give to ourselves. Happiness is contagious (thank you mirror neurons), and happiness can lead to better health in so many way, for us all.
“Let us give thanks for what makes us happy. And let us dedicate our efforts to filling our world with happiness.”
As you go about your day today, take a moment to extend gratitude, good will and compassion to others and include yourself in that circle. Send a wish of Loving Kindness to Mother Earth and all her people:
- May WE ALL be safe and protected
- May WE ALL be healthy, strong, vibrant, and alive
- May WE ALL be happy, content, joyful, and grateful
- May WE ALL have a sense of well-being and be free from worries, stress, ill will—for a moment, for a day, for any measure of time where we recognize things can be different and we recognize that we are grateful for what they are right now. What they are right now has lead us to who we are right now, and the fact of the matter is that we are breathing and that in itself is the biggest reason to be happy!
“And let us dedicate our efforts to filling our world with happiness.”
Another mindful application? You bet. One of the most powerful ones you can implement in your life, as it can impact the well-being of your mind-body-spirit every day: the application of mindful eating. After all, how many of us can say we eat “mindfully” and not from reactive habits or those conditioned in us at a young age? I recently participated in the Mindful Eating- Conscious Living course at UCSD Center for Mindfulness, and what I discovered are tools that I intend to use for the rest of my life, that can help me improve not only my wellbeing but my client’s well-being also, and the quality of our days and life overall.
This 8-week, 20 hour course is based on the book, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, MD, and dips a bit into another resource, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. Many concepts are covered in this class from being aware of where our hungers originate, to how our habits are conditioned and the choices we are free to make now, more mindfully. Like any mindfulness program that brings awareness to the topic on which it focuses, this course brings awareness to our relationship with food. Additionally, it helps us make better choices when thinking about the need to refuel– not necessarily WHAT we refuel with, but WHY, WHEN, WHERE and HOW. We also learned different ways of satisfying hungers that do not involve food, but need our appetite needs.
Why We Eat: Feeding our Hungers
One of the big take-a-ways for eating mindfully is being able to tune into the origin of our hungers, and identify the need being expressed. Chozen Bays states there are many kinds of hungers that are actually experiences of the senses, thoughts and emotions within our body, mind and heart. She encourages us to ask and answer many questions before delving into that next plate of food, piece of overly cheesed pizza, or creamy sundae of ice cream. These questions include: what is the sound of hunger? What is the taste of hunger? Where does it reside in my body? And why am I hungry?
Chozen Bays introduces seven kinds of hunger, many of them involving our senses. We additionally added one more during the class—identifying a total of 8. By tuning into our senses, we can become aware of where we are feeling our hunger, where it originates answering those questions above and evaluate if food is the best answer to fulfill our perceived need for food. These questions are definitely worth asking and answering each time we refuel or reach for that handy snack that we think will satisfy our craving. But will it? Try checking in with the following hungers next time you sit down for a meal, and really contemplate from where your hungers stem, what need you are filling, and then decide on ways you can satisfy that hunger.
Does your appetite begin to surface when you look at appealing food? In a restaurant when we are done with our meals it’s very common for the waiter/waitress to pass around the dessert tray. But how many of us are full by the time that tray comes around? Better yet, how many of us give in to that delicious dessert because it looks good? Or we may tell ourselves we’ll eat half of something (even though the size of that thing may be big enough to be two portions), and end up eating the entirety. The eyes can override our stomach and mind, suggesting we are hungry, when in fact it’s our eyes that are hungry. Next time you eat, check into your eye hunger and assess your level (1-low hunger to 10-high hunger). If you find it is high, and your other hungers are low, try taking in beauty somewhere else besides food (like in nature, art, etc…). After all, eye hunger is all about being hungry for something beautiful.
Have you ever walked into a bakery while cookies are baking, or a movie theatre while the popcorn is popping and started to feel hungry? Sometimes smell can elicit a craving for comfort food. Evolutionarily, nose hunger served our ancestors to be aware of food that was good to eat or that had spoiled. Today, we are taking in far too many foods based on smell. Though the tongue can taste only 5 flavors, the nose can detect up to 10,000 different smells. In addition, our olfactory sense can increase the intense flavor of food, and the “right” smell can make us consume even more. Next time you notice the smell of food, try assessing your nose hunger – again rating it as above, 1: low – 10: high. If your nose hunger is high but the rest of the hungers are low, try taking in something that is fragrant—sniff a flower, burn a candle, go out into nature, or try a dash of perfume.
Our species is very oral. Putting food into our mouths can be very pleasurable. But how often do we really pay attention to what is in our mouths? How often have you found yourself shoveling food into your mouth, spoonful by spoonful without really tasting it, and realizing that you are done with the entire portion? How often are we aware of the texture, flavor and density of our food? How often do we notice the individual taste of each ingredient? Not very often, especially if we are visiting with others or distracted by watching TV or reading. Genetics, food habits, culture and conditioning can also impact all our hungers, especially mouth hunger. If we want to have a “party in the mouth,” we need to make sure the mind is invited—so that we are aware of all the sensations within our mouths. Next time you eat assess your mouth hunger, assess your thirst situation as well. There are many things we can do with extending the satisfying of mouth hunger. When you eat or drink mindfully, hold the food or liquid in your mouth and savor the qualities before swallowing. Try varying the texture of your food (i.e. an apple, or apple juice or apple sauce). Try chewing 15 times with each bite, to really break down the density.
We know we are hungry when our stomach rumbles and we experience hunger pangs. But is it really hunger, or could it be stress? Or the anxiety we feel as we contemplate all the tasks and deadlines we have on our list for the day? Sometimes stomach hunger and stress can present themselves similarly. Or do we feel our stomachs are hungry because we have trained them to eat at a certain time of the day, and if we have an “empty” feeling around that time, we know we should eat? Our stomach, in the end, likes to be ¾ of the way full. Start your next meal assessing your stomach hunger (1-low, 10- high). If it’s high, then eat one food item/portion and assess your situation again. The stomach likes to eat, and then rest…. Which is something that a lot of people in our society could benefit by from understanding. Give your stomach a chance to recover instead of constantly keeping it full.
This hunger really speaks to what our body needs in terms of essential building blocks. It’s an instinctual awareness of what our body requires, and how much of it. The body is very effective in telling us what is missing or its request for a certain nutrient, if we only listen. Think about the last time you really craved something. Can you trace it to an element—chips and salt; meat or eggs and protein; oranges and vitamin C; bananas and potassium, etc…. Next time you are in search for food, stand there looking into your fridge or pantry and ask your body, “Please body, tell me what you need now.” See what pops up and if you can trace it back to an essential element.
When we express mind hunger, we begin to think “should” statements: I should drink 12 glasses of water a day, I should stay away from sweets, I should eat more fruits and vegetables, etc…. Mind hunger forms by what we take in through the eyes, ears and words around us. We should eat a big breakfast; or we shouldn’t eat (especially fruits) after a certain hour because our metabolism slows. Mind hunger uses knowledge—a cultural knowledge of what is believed to be best at the time—and not stomach or cellular hunger. Mind hunger puts a judgment on food—noting how some things are bad for us and others better for us. Try this for practice: notice what your mind is telling you about hunger during the day. Listen for what the mind thinks you “should” eat. Notice if there are competing voices about what you wish to eat, as that is generally a sign of mind hunger. Rate your mind hunger. If it’s higher than the others, think about a different source of where you can get information. Mind hunger is satisfied with information.
When we are sad many of us sometimes reach for food feeling that it will comfort us and make us feel better. In the end we sometimes eat more, and it does the opposite, making us feel worse. Sometimes we reach for food out of memory of the heart, and how it made us feel at a certain time and with a certain person: Grandma’s soup and sandwiches, mom’s cookies, or sharing a great meal with a friend or loved one.
Heart hunger craves food eaten when we were a child with an illness or during a holiday with our extended family. Heart hunger attempts to fill a void or hole in the heart. We cannot depend on food to fill the empty places in our hearts, as it is nourished through intimacy or connection with others or even oneself. Next time you feel hunger in your heart, assess your hunger, again rating it 1-10. If you’re high on heart hunger and not the others, consider doing something that connects you with others; loved ones or even nature. Or even doing some kind act for yourself like taking a relaxing bath, reading a book, or going for a walk in nature. Another idea is to try giving thanks for all of those that were involved in growing/prepping/making the food—to feel the connection.
This hunger is not in Chozen Bay’s book, but is just as real. When you hear the crunch or pop or sound of food, do you begin to think about it and start to get hungry? The crunch of a carrot or ripping up lettuce leaves? Another ear hunger perspective: upon hearing a certain song or phrase, do you bring up memories that stir your appetite? These sounds all have something to do with ear hunger and eliciting the desire for food. Do you feel hungrier when there is silence or activity going on around you? Some people feel more at ease with food when there is activity. However, if you can find yourself a quiet space to eat, you may be surprised at what you hear inside yourself. Next time you feel hungry, assess your ear hunger. Is there anything that you pick up through hearing that is contributing to the hunger? If this hunger is higher than the others, try finding something to listen to that fills that need—like your favorite song, or listening to the birds, or water flowing somewhere. Sometimes, all we need is to fill what we hear with beauty, however we define it. Or try stillness, as that allows us to connect with our bodies and in the end that is what mindfulness is all about.
How Will You Eat Mindfully
There are many more concepts involved with mindful eating (like conditioning, and different ways to satisfy hungers- some of which include short meditations), but knowing about the eight hungers is essential to get started. I would recommend the book, the UCSD class, and or checking in with me or another coach to find out more about what you can do to start eating more mindfully. In the end, your relationship with food will be healthier, and as a result, you will be happier.
It’s “the most wonderful time of the year” again, when emphasis is placed on giving gifts to our loved ones to acknowledge our relationships and to keep the connections going. This holiday, my gift to my readers is sharing tips on how to give gifts of happiness with all, as recommended by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. These folks know what they are talking about as they study what makes a meaningful life. Great suggestions to put into practice… your social connections are sure to be strengthened by them… Enjoy and be sure to make yours merry!
Five Ways to Get the Gift Right! by the Greater Good Science Center!
photo creds: http://www.flower-arrangement-advisor.com/
It’s so interesting how the concept of mindfulness is springing up everywhere… and for a good reason. Mindfulness is so beneficial in so many ways; it helps us slow down, focus our attention, be present in the moment, tune into what is happening in our bodies and accept what is without judgement. It involves quieting our mind’s chatter (ruminations over past actions/behaviors, and worries about what tomorrow holds), and taking a “time-in” to connect with ourselves by observing how our body is responding in that moment, and savoring or acknowledging what is.
Mindfulness can be cultivated over time with practice and has tremendous benefits for our mind, body, spirit and relationships with others! The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley lists many benefits that result from practicing mindfulness. To list a few, they report mindfulness:
- boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness,
- improves our ability to focus affecting our memory and attention skills,
- reduces anger, anxiety, stress and depression,
- reduces symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,
- increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
- increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions–may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse,
- increases compassion, and self-compassion as well.
See their full list of benefits on their Mindfulness page.
Mindful.org is an online community dedicated to sharing the best of mindfulness-based practices, and is part of the “Mindful Initiative”, celebrating all things mindful in daily life. Additionally, mindfulness training, research and practice centers are popping up all around the country. Some centers are affiliated with universities such as The Center for Mindfulness at UCSD, and UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, while others are private practices where mindfulness trained professionals, such as therapists and life coaches, offer classes, workshops and retreats to get you started on incorporating mindfulness into your life. Businesses, schools, and the general public are now being targeted for specific applications such as stress reduction, eating, parenting, exercising, and relationships to name a few. The bottom line is that mindfulness is good for you and everything you do– from just basic existing to existing with flair, vitality and purpose. Furthermore, mindfulness encourages and increases our ability for compassion… which improves our connections with others and ultimately our life satisfaction.
Below I offer a couple of Mindfulness applications that can help you focus, attend to the here and now and cultivate compassion all at the same time. Try one out for yourself and let me know what resonated with you. Not everyone can quiet their chatting mind quickly… for most people it takes time and practice to cultivate mindfulness, and if it seems like it is not working one day for you, try it on another day, it may work then. The applications listed below are the basics that can get you started…
Mindful Breathing Meditation
Mindful breathing is one way to regulate our body’s response to stress and calm us down. This is one main component of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program created by Jon Kabat-Zin and taught in many institutions around the world. The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego is one of my favorite places for mindfulness training.
Steps for Mindful Breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your feet grounded on the floor, and try to have your back straight. You can also do this meditation laying down.
- Close your eyes, or focus on something that allows you to drop your head to a low gaze, and take 3 deep breaths.
- On the inhale, take in the air through your nose as you count silently to 4. Feel the air rushing into your body as your chest and lungs begin to expand.
- On the exhale, let the air (or carbon dioxide) out through your mouth as you count silently to 6 or 8. Feel your chest contract and your belly rise as you let the air out.
- After 3 deep breaths this way, return to a normal breathing pattern but continue to focus on your breath feeling the sensations associated with the process.
- Notice how your body feels as you are taking in the air and the renewal that is happening in your body.
- Notice how your body feels as you let air out, disposing with the waste of what is no longer needed.
- Focus on your breath for 3-5 minutes. Many people are able to increase that time up to 20 minutes or more. Think of it as a way to connect with your body on the most basic level and reconnect with calmness.
- If/when your mind wanders (and for most of us, it does a lot), and you are no longer attending to your breath, acknowledge what you are thinking about something, and gently bring your focus back to your breath at your belly.
- Set a timer for your meditation goal, and one it goes off, return to your normal state, but notice if you feel like your heart has opened up. For many, that is the result we feel after this type of meditation.
Mindful Eating-savoring Meditation
Slowing down to eat has great benefits for our bodies and minds alike. Many people don’t think twice about when and where they are eating, and how they are eating. Many of us just shovel food into our mouths without thinking twice. Some people stand to eat, while others mindlessly watch TV and eat. According to an article, “The Surprising Benefits of Mindful Eating,” by Dr. Susan Albers some benefits found with mindful eating include:
- reduces overeating and binge eating,
- improves weight loss and reduce your body mass index (BMI)
- helps ability to cope with chronic eating problems such as anorexia and bulimia, and reduce anxious thoughts about food and your body, and
- improves the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.
Steps for Mindful Eating:
So how do you eat mindfully? By just slowing down the whole process of eating, step by step.
- Select a piece of food that you desire. Try a few strawberries or a slice of orange; a piece of cheese or even chocolate– whatever your body is asking for.
- Notice the unique characteristics of the food; the color, the smell, the texture, the shape, the density, the flavor.
- Savor each unique characteristic as much as you can with each of your senses; is the color deeper in one area than another? does the texture change, does the flavor change from once you put it in your mouth, to when you finish chewing?
- Put the food into your mouth and put your spoon or fork down.
- Chew each bite of food completely and swallow before embarking on another bite. Some suggest to chew each bite at least 20 times.
- Take a moment to rest in between bites to savor even more.
- Notice how your body is responding to the nourishment. Depending on how much you have eaten, are you feeling fuller?
- This next step does step out of the power of “now”, but offers opportunities to show gratitude. Before you embark on another bite, think about everyone who was involved in getting that particular food to your door, to your table. Send gratitude to the farmers who may have cultivated the food you are eating. Those who tended to the food, who prepared the food for baking, eating, etc., who cooked the food if applicable, who enabled you to buy the food. The list can be very long depending on what type of food you are mindfully eating and savoring.
- As you take your next bite, start the process over again, and this time again sense the food with as many senses as you can as you are eating it. The more you sense, the more you can savor and reflect back on with gratitude.
- Repeat taking time with each step– selecting the bite, observing the food, sensing the food, chewing and swallowing, and giving thanks. Soon, you will realize that you may not be as hungry as you thought… with a little time, our bodies catch up with our brain and overeating could be a think of the past!
Let me know what you think of these meditations and applications for mindfulness. More information can be found in the Resources section of this website. Just think what life would be like if we lived our days being mindful. If you would like some guidance stepping into Mindfulness, send me an email and we’ll get you started!