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!