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.”
So much going on this month of May. Beginning with the most important (in my book): National Mental Health Awareness Month!
Why is it that our society cares more about how we look and function on the outside than how we feel and function on the inside? Just look around at the media these days that tell us how we should look and what we should have. The truth is mental health is just as important, if not more, than physical health and beauty. After all, wasn’t it Gandhi who said:
- “Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
It All Starts with Your Thoughts
So it all starts with our thoughts, but those are some of the last things we give attention to, or conversely, we give them too much attention and get wrapped up in rumination. We begin thinking too much of the past and what I “should have” done, or thinking too much about the future and all the possibilities of what will happen, that we lose the one moment we have, the one in the present. The bottom line is that we are either oblivious to our own mental health and “not noticing”, or we exhaust ourselves from over identification. Into which realm do you fall?
A valid question to ask this month is when was the last time you attended to your own mental health– your feelings and general state of well-being? Many people don’t take the time to drop inward, and when we do it’s on the negative. Since way back when, the human brain has been wired with a negativity bias (we need 3 positives to counteract 1 negative event), with the media focused on the worst, and our 24/7 connected and socially comparable status, it’s easy to see why many can easily get swept up in that downward spiral of negative thinking. Add to that the natural stressors of life that may involve difficult communication with others, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for anxiety or depression. When these dips in mental health last for periods longer than an hour or day (perhaps weeks, months and even years), we begin to see major mental illnesses arise. These altered states of thinking take a toll on our psychological and physical health as well, and are much more prominent.
The State of Well-Being: Lost
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, while a whopping 70% of U.S. adults are obese or overweight (FastStats 2014); only about 17% of U.S adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health: successfully coping with normal life stresses, working productively, and making contributions to the community. That leaves 83% of us needing to attend to our own mental health and how we cope with life. The CDC’s website states currently 26% of us have been diagnosed with depression, and estimates by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing behind ischemic heart disease.
With this in mind, why aren’t we all as concerned about mental health and illness as we are about physical health and illness? What can we do about both? We can check out resources that speak to both and well-being in general. We can become aware of the need to balance, and bring attention to the mind-body connection. That is what we do at BeingMerry.com. We bring attention to wellness and well- being with Mindfulness.
Bringing Awareness to Well-Being: Retreat Solution
To address the physical and mental connections, we offer day-long Mindfulness Retreats to bring one’s mind back to one’s body and heart. In fact, in May and June 2016 we will be offering AWE Inspired Retreats at Keys Creek Lavender Farm, 40 minutes north of San Diego. Science has shown lavender to be a natural soothing and calming agent, and mindfulness to bring the same, plus a whole lot more.
During these day retreats, we take a moment to slow down and bring awareness to the connection of physical and mental health. We bring in mindfulness that allows us to reset our auto-pilot in our brain, and influence both our immune systems and stress reaction cycles. We drop into our senses within the body, and really notice the experience we are having—with THIS mind and THIS body. We try to see thoughts and emotions for what they are, and not get carried away with the mind on her travels to the future or past.
At the AWE Inspired Retreats, we nourish our minds and bodies with our breathing, with slowing down and taking in, and with compassionate movement and healthy refueling. We see our journeys for what they are, and in that moment, give ourselves what we need. We participate in various forms of meditation that allows us to experience greater calm, and connect to our minds, bodies, and feelings. We discover inner resources that can change our lives, and awaken our capacity for authenticity and wisdom. We intentionally slow down to bring focused attention to our human experience—“being” in this brain and this body. And knowing, that is enough.
If you want to know more about the AWE Inspired Retreats, check out the registration pages found at:
- www.beingmerry.com and go to Retreats.
Or access the specific Monthly retreats from the following pages:
- May 15th (Sunday) 9a-4p : http://AWEinspiredretreat.eventbrite.com
- June 18th (Saturday) 9a-4p: http://AWEinspiredretreatjune.eventbrite.com
Bringing Awareness to Mental Health
Other solutions are out there to help you invest in your mental health. Take a look at what Mental Health America has put out this month to increase your awareness:
To close this post and leave you with a thought about mental health, mindfulness and the benefits of retreating inward and toward your breath, I turn to poet David Whyte who said it so succinctly with his poem “Enough”. I encourage you to take this moment to think about your well-being, and how you will invest in it this month, as we all strive to live the healthiest lives we can—opening to life and connecting our minds, bodies and spirits:
These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life we have refused
again and again until now.
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!
“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:
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!
Spring is finally here… and so are opportunities for renewal– a time to shed an old coat (i.e. old habits, old perspectives, dated thoughts) and embrace a new one! This Winter I completed a couple of coach training classes, and continue on to more this Spring that will allow me to expand my Wellness offerings. This Winter I explored concepts such as wellness rituals, mindfulness, loving kindness and other meditations, the mind-brain connection, gratitude, eco-psychology (the relationship between us and the natural world), epi-genetics (how our environment can influence/change our genes), and the importance of sleep and customized sleep camps. I gathered numerous practical applications that I am excited to share with my clients and students.
My intention for this Spring is to live FULLY MINDFUL! One of the classes in which I am taking currently is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class through UCSD Center for Mindfulness. I am finding this class valuable and validating; engaging in different meditation practices to help down-regulate my system, and increase focus and awareness in the moment, and in everyday life. My teacher is a former student of Jon Kabat-Zinn– one of the major proponents of Mindfulness as a science and practice. I feel very grateful to have her lead me on this journey. Besides down regulating our systems, mindfulness is shown scientifically to increase compassion and structurally change the brain. Many great results are found cultivating mindfulness in your life.
Here is one mindful meditation that I experienced in my Mentorcoach Wellness class called “Just this..”.
- Find yourself in a comfortable position. If sitting, make sure your sitting tall, with your back supported and your shoulders down.
- Close your eyes, or find a focal point on which to center around.
- Inhale a deep breath through your nose, filling your lungs up with fueling air as much as you can.
- Exhale through your mouth, slowly, extending the exhale for as long as you can.
- Feel your abdomen or chest rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation.
- On the next inhale, as you breathe through your nose think the thought “just” (and the number 1).
- On the exhale, as you release through your mouth think the thought, “this” (and the number 1).
- Repeat this process, incrementing the number by 1 each time (i.e. just 2, this 2, just 3, this 3…).
- Repeat the process until you get to the number 10… just 10, this 10.
- Return to normal breathing and open your eyes.
- Ask yourself, how does my body feel? How does my mind feel? How do I feel over all?
Sometimes our bodies and minds need a moment to slow down and rest for a moment. In our hectic world, taking care of things and multi-tasking as much as possible, this break can bring a lot of relief– if only for 10 seconds or more. However, investing those 10 or so seconds can have an effect on the rest of your 24-hours.
When you are in a stressful situation… take a moment and do this meditation. It will help you stand back from the stress, and gain a new perspective. If you do use this, let me know how you liked it. If you wish to learn more about this field, contact me. I’d like to chat and figure out how to help you cultivate this kind of practice in your life.
In June of 2012, The United Nations declared March 20th the International Day of Happiness. They proclaimed that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, and invited the world to observe the day AND become involved in education and awareness-raising activities.
So, this site/blog post is one my of awareness-raising activities (not just for one day, but for all days). Because I teach and study The Science of Happiness and am a Well-being Coach, this day means a lot to me. Globally, it invites us all to INTENTIONALLY put goodness out there into the world. And science shows that goodness has a ripple effect on other people. What vibe will our planet give off that day when we spread the word and kindness to everyone we know, globally?
On another note, my sixteen year old daughter asked, “Why can’t every day be Happiness Day?” Good question Bailey. Why indeed cannot every day be Happiness Day? Well, every day can be a day we choose happiness. But what does that mean? What is happiness, after all? It’s a right and something we can pursue, as noted by our forefathers in the Declaration of Independence. But, as Will Smith’s character Chris Gardner in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness asks, “Can we ever attain happiness?”
Another question to ask is what does happiness mean to you? (Pharrell Williams gives us some suggestions– which you may want to clap along with;))
Humans have been trying to answer this question for more than 2,000 years. From the Greek philosophers (Epicurus and Aristotle respectively), two definitions surfaced. The first is Hedonic Happiness which focuses on maximizing pleasure and feeling good. Many people still see happiness this way today, as always laughing, smiling, being joyful and in search of pleasure. This view of happiness is sometimes seen as self-centered, but it is a part of the self that needs to attended to, for everyone wants to feel good. And when we feel good, we do good. And that goodness is contagious. Which brings us to a second view of Happiness.
A second definition is Eudemonic Happiness, which emphasizes living by virtues and functioning well in areas that are not tied to physical or personal pleasures. Living well by doing good, and contributing something back to the greater good– to an entity bigger than ourselves.
In The Happiness Journey, we learn that scientist Corey Keyes took these two ideas and blended it with a third to define a new kind of happy, called “flourishing,” which is defined as feeling good and functioning well both socially and personally. This view on happiness really looks at the holistic beings that we all are, and considers our mental and physical health and our connections to each other and to the world at large.
Still, other religious experts have contributed more meanings for happiness. Buddha notes that Happiness is moving away from suffering. The Dalai Lama states that happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from our own actions, and if we want others to be happy, we need to practice compassion. In addition, if we want to be happy, we need to practice compassion. Another well-known spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, notes that true happiness is based on peace.
All religions have their view on happiness. But which view of happiness will you celebrate March 20th? You can follow Epicurus’ words along with Thich Nhat Hanh, and do something for yourself that brings you peace and positive emotion. You can follow Aristotle and the Dalai Lama, and do something with integrity for the goodness of yourself AND others. You can follow Keyes’ definition and do all of the above and more.
Whatever you do, just do something INTENTIONALLY… acknowledge something good in life, in your life, and in the world. Be grateful that you have the ability to choose, and YOUR choice can influence your own and other’s happiness greatly!
Be sure to check back on March 20th for some suggestions on how you can increase your happiness– and it won’t cost you a thing!
(If you are interested in knowing more about Flourishing, consider taking The Happiness Journey).
Ah, November has finally arrived with all her feelings and reminders of gratitude! After all, tis’ the season of giving and being grateful! Gratitude is one powerful: positive emotion, virtue, character strength, state of being and activity all in one. That is why it packs such an enormous punch and brings benefits in all areas of our lives, if we allow it. And that is the key… allowing it…to recognize, cultivate and practice gratitude. Some people do not know how to recognize gratitude when they see it, or ask why they should be grateful, and/or not realize the realm of different activities in which they can participate on so many levels to reap rewards themselves.
Recognizing moments for gratitude is not all that easy. Especially when we are “wired for negativity” from the start– as our brains help us survive, not thrive (I touch on this a lot in the Hapacus course I teach online and in person). And when people are going through tough times, it’s very easy to get sucked into the negativity of what is NOT going well– sending us and those around us into a downward spiral. It’s actually during those hard times that gratitude can benefit us the most.
Studies on gratitude show positive effects of recognizing the good in the past, present and future, and how gratitude transforms people. Researcher Robert Emmons, PhD., of University of California at Davis, has studied this topic for many years and has offered some interesting insights & findings:
- gratitude allows for celebrating the present-> it magnifies goodness (we look for it) and delays adaptation (taking it for granted),
- gratitude blocks toxic emotions (for example envy, regret, and anxiety and can reduce episodes and duration of depression),
- gratitude makes us more resilient; allowing us to recover from stress and symptoms of trauma faster, and
- gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth, as it reminds us that someone else is looking out for us, or that others have helped us get to where we are today.
There are so many more reasons why we need to practice gratitude… all relate to health and relationships. And there are SO MANY WAYS we can cultivate and practice gratitude in our everyday lives; most of them cost NOTHING— just our ability to look for the good in things. There are many more intentional activities I can share, but I won’t give them all away here. If you are curious in knowing more, email me or attend one of my “Get Your Gratitude On” workshops (11/8 & 15 (6:30-8:30p) and 11/9 & 16 (10am-12pm)). This is an invitation only event in San Diego, so email me if you’d like to attend. Or you can sign up for The Happiness Journey class that I teach through Hapacus.com. I can schedule a class online or in person during hours that meet your needs. There are two classes listed currently, but these times are adjustable.
Lastly, one more thing you can do to satisfy your curiosity and learn more about how great Gratitude is, is to follow this blog– as I will be planting more seeds throughout the month on gratitude and how you can improve your life, just by being grateful! To close, I’d like to offer one activity for you to try on… which will cost you to pay only with your attention.
Grateful Journal Activity
This activity is explained in The Happiness Journey, and Oprah and a host of others including researcher Sonya Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. of University of California at Riverside, have brought awareness to this activity where you write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for each day. Set aside time, the same time each day if possible, to reflect through the day’s events noting at least 5 things that inspired gratitude in you. Include an explanation as to why you think these events happened, and your role in the event. By doing so, you will begin to see the connection between positive events and those people in your life who are “looking out for you” or cultivating happiness, and you will see how you have a hand in making gratitude happen. Try not to repeat the same entries every night. Look for new aspects for which to reflect/be grateful. Keep writing in the journal for a few weeks, and notice the changes in yourself and those around you. If you feel it’s more stressful having to remember or find 3-5 things everyday, reduce the number of days you are writing to 1-3. But do try to write, as writing can help our brains make sense of what we’ve experienced–and have a bigger impact about how we think about ourselves and our world.
I will start my list for today right here:
- I am thankful for being able to write a blog post about the importance of gratitude. This event happened because the topic is important to me and my well-being, and I want to share the information with others so they can increase their well-being.
- I am thankful that my computer and internet connection are working well, so that I may post this information. I recognize there were many people who are able to make this happen, from the computer manufacturers to the internet providers, from the hosting provider to my husband and myself who keep our technology up and running in the house.
- I am thankful for readers who take in the information I share in this blog, and do something with it. Using it with their family or friends or in their work-setting. This is important for, like that old adage reads, “a fallen tree does not make a sound in the forest unless there are ears to hear it.” I am writing this blog to help be the change I want to see in the world; one that is flourishing with well-beings.
THANK YOU for reading and visiting my blog. May you use the information contained within for your benefit… and may you feel safe, healthy, happy and live with ease.
Time for a post as I finish up teaching a couple of courses of The Happiness Journey, through Hapacus, and continue on with the class that I am taking which I wrote about previously, Love 2.0 with Barbara Fredrickson. It has been a juggling act, teaching, coaching, learning and living life with all the conditions I’ve built into it (family, kids, responsibilities, etc…). On the bright side, I am managing a fairly stressful load by CHOOSING to build positive emotions into my daily diet. As I teach the Happiness Journey, I remind my students and myself that happiness is only one emotion they can choose. There are a host of other positive emotions they can access if they need a lift out of a blue mood, which could be more conducive to actually lifting them up. And these positive emotions can lead to others as well, leading to an upward spiral.
So what are the other positive emotions from which we can choose?
There are at least ten positive emotions that you can call on and cultivate at any time. There are many more, but ten show up in many positive psychology studies. In another one of Barbara Fredrickson’s books, Positivity, she calls them out in order from the most often occurring:
- Joy (happiness)
and as suggested by another researcher, Kristen Neff,
I included this last positive emotion out after reading quite a bit on the subject as well. I would definitely add it to the top of my list… from which to cultivate at any time… especially for a busy working mom in this day and age. One of my favorites, besides love (and kindness), is gratitude which I hope to really savor and talk about more in November.
Can we really CHOOSE to feel positive emotion? And why are positive emotions important?
The homework for the Love 2.0 class involves revisiting Positivity fully. This book has reminded me of the key concepts about positive emotions in general, and YES, how choosing them intentionally can produce great benefits psychologically, physically and socially. This is one reason why they are so important. Here are some other key concepts worth knowing about:
- You can choose positive emotions by noting HOW you interpret events and ideas AS they unfold (and AFTER they unfold as well).
- We need 3 positive emotions/encounters for every 1 negative emotion felt– to enable us to flourish. (some are challenging this ratio right now– but considering many people have a ratio of 0 to 1 or 1 to 1, 3 to 1 can make a dramatic difference in life satisfaction levels, on a whole).
- Letting positive emotion linger will bring more health benefits.
- Positive emotions encourage positive spirals all around you, i.e., one positive emotion can lead to the others.
- Those who WITNESS positive emotions will feel more inspired and uplifted and are more likely to engage in positive emotion themselves.
- Positive emotions can help you broaden your physical and psychological outlook and build your life with more possibilities in a real physiological way.
- People who have a high positivity ratio live on the average 10 years longer than those who don’t. They also get sick less often and are able to bounce back from health and psychological setbacks more effectively and at a faster rate.
- Positivity is contagious.
This last point is pretty big. Your good mood influences how you interact with those around you, who adjust how they interact with those around them, and so on and so forth. This is a stellar example of how you can really “Be the Change You want to See in the World,” as Gandhi quoted years ago.
How can I choose and cultivate positive emotion?
There are many ways to cultivate positive emotion. As noted above, you can choose positive emotions by noting HOW you interpret events and ideas (and the meaning you assign them– The Happiness Journey addresses this concept through explanatory styles).
You can also choose intentional activities like:
- Connecting with nature (through sounds, sights, smells, touch)– by being outdoors or with animals/creature. Nature can inspire you, remind you that you’re part of a bigger picture (humble/awe you), and in return you may display gratitude and love for allowing this connection.
- Connecting with others– by showing interest, being curious, being kind or helping, When you help someone, you externalize your positivity and it moves between you and another person like a dance… adding more possibilities for goodness in the world.
- Opening your mind — by focusing on the present moment and finding the positive meaning in the situation. At any time, ask yourself in any given moment, “What is right here? What can I celebrate?” Or on a different note, dream about the future… anticipate an event in which you can plan and savor, and replay in your mind at a later date.
- Opening your heart– by savoring goodness, counting your blessings and following your passion. For any of the emotions or methods above, ask yourself, “When was the last time I felt this feeling? Can I think of other triggers that can produce these feelings? What can I do now to cultivate these feelings?”
There are many other methods you can employ to cultivate and choose positive emotions. If you would like to grow your repertoire/library, and learning about new tools that can help you increase your positive emotion, please email/contact me at any time.
What We Focus on Grows
Now that you know what positive emotions are, how they can benefit us and how we can choose them, what positive emotion will you CHOOSE to focus on today? Do it for today, tomorrow and if you can– everyday– and your heart, your mind and your body will thank you in years to come!