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.”
Check out the guest blog post I penned this week for A2Z Healing Toolbox.com . This is a GREAT resource for anyone experiencing any type of grief, loss, trauma and transition.
Whatever the grief is, know that comparing your grief with someone else does not help. Making it smaller than it is, or larger than it is does not serve you in dealing with it. Check out this website to find tools that may help you work through whatever it is that you need to work through. And know that you are not alone!
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.
As we exit Stress Awareness Month, I wanted to share a specific practice may allow you to have another perspective on stress. In the Mindfulness -Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class we define stress as change, which is an inevitable part of life. We adopt the mindset that change can be helpful, allowing us to grow and experience things that otherwise might not have occurred (and perhaps see things through a silver-lining). We notice how stressful events or changes go through a cycle, having a beginning, middle and end to them– much like the changing nature of our breath or physical sensations. Much like our
thoughts and emotions as well. They all come and go. We practice many sitting meditations in MBSR focusing on the breath, body, thoughts and emotions, so this analogy fits nicely, as we sit and notice what arises and falls away.
We also talk about different kinds of stressors that propel opportunities for change; such as internal stressors, originating from our inner self- like a certain thought or belief, to external stressors originating from the outside world- like the demands of work. We also categorize the duration of stressful events from acute- lasting a short time-like recovering from the flu, to chronic stressors- like being a caregiver to an aging parent or a child with special needs. Finally, we talk about maladaptive responses to stress that are conditioned happening on autopilot, where we just react without thinking.
Opening up Your Awareness
Expand your awareness around stress this week by noticing how it shows up in your life and being curious by asking/answering certain questions. Are the stressors originating internally or externally? What might be the duration of the stressors? How often is it/are they occurring? Intermittently (acute) or constantly (chronic)? Do you have any control over the stressor? How do you normally react to the stressor? Is auto-pilot controlling the reaction, or do you have some control over your reaction? As we begin to open our awareness to stress, and become curious, we see stressors for what they are and how some fall away and pass, and for some we can choose a healthier response by bringing in mindfulness.
When we bring mindfulness to stressful events, we have a moment to pause and notice, and see the change for what it is rather than what we are (with our judging, striving, and impatient minds). Just by pausing, we break the auto-pilot cycle and have the freedom to intentionally choose a different response.
Looking for that Silver Lining
To cite an example of seeing stress differently and bringing mindfulness to the table, let’s consider an acute external stressor many people experience every day: traffic. Seeing traffic as negative– it’s stopping us from what we want to do– our initial auto-pilot reaction may be maladaptive; we may grip the steering wheel tighter, breathe shallowly, and intently stare at the red car lights glaring in front of us “willing” the situation to change- for the light to turn green or for the bottleneck traffic jam to break up. We may start to ruminate about how much traffic “stresses us out”, and begin mentally going to our to do lists (of what we need to do next and in less time now), or worst case scenarios about what may result from the traffic- being late, disappointing others, etc…Maybe you will be so late, you’ll miss what you are aiming for all together! Rumination can easily lead to over identifying with the situation.
By taking a “stress can be helpful” mindset, we might see traffic as a time to STOP:
- Take a breath
- Observe and
This breath allows the oxygen we take in to our bodies really nourish us. This breath has a calming effect, that engages the parasympathetic system of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). On a cellular level, this breath strengthens your well being by allowing your body to take in more, and affect telomeres that are responsible for the aging of cells. On a conscious level, you may then choose a healthy response, such as focusing on a positive memory from the day, or using gratitude to recall something that went well during the day, and for this moment to recall and savor it.
You may realize that this stressor or change will end soon, and that rumination won’t make the event pass faster, and may even get you more riled up. You realize that with each opportunity to literally pause, you are refueling yourself. If you adopt this suggestion you may find that you arrive at your event calmer and with greater perspective– taking in more around you.
Try It Yourself
I encourage you to try this breathing practice the next time you are in traffic, and notice what arises in you. Check in with your body. Are you gripping the wheel with tension, or breathing in and nourishing your body? Whichever behavior you choose, notice how it
feels IN your body. What do you notice directly? Check in with your mind: are you ruminating about the future or rehashing something in the past, or perhaps bringing gratitude and remembering something that went well today? Check in to how your thoughts influence the way you feel in both your heart and body. What do you notice?
Attempt this practice for one day or one week. Notice what you are feeling and thinking as a result. Chances are you’ll be a little more compassionate behind that wheel- starting with yourself and working outward. What we know about change and stress is that they happen, and if we bring mindfulness to our lives during this time we are creating
a more compassionate world, starting with one event and one person. If you choose to take on this challenge, email me with what you noticed. I would love to hear what you experienced and noticed from taking this new perspective
(This blog post was adapted from a piece written for HeraHub: Co-working Space for Women– for April is STRESS AWARENESS MONTH)
The demands of the business day seem to continuously pile up: the phone calls, emails, voicemails, budgets, reports, and meetings on the schedule. You are the ultimate producer, juggling multiple roles and projects to build or contribute to the business that you envision will change the world. You look at the clock, realizing although you’ve put in a full day, time is ticking. You wonder how much more you can accomplish before you start it all over again tomorrow, squeezing in food or sleep, or if you’re a parent too, the duties of raising a family. Your mind continues to race through to-do and “should-have” lists, as your shoulders tighten, and pressure in your neck and head increases. Your body screams, “STOP!”
So what do you do? Perhaps think, “This work will never get done! I just don’t have it in me to finish it all!” And then give up? Or ignore the tension in your neck, and continue to race forward, increasing your blood pressure, and compromising both your health and the quality of your work? Or reach for yet another cup of coffee or drink d’jour to get you through the night? What the experts in stress science suggest you do for healthy living is adopt a stress is helpful mindset accompanied by mindfulness.
A Stress Mindset?
Stress, the predictable part of life in this constantly changing world, can be harnessed to help you perform at your peak. Adopting the mindset that stress is helpful (not harmful) can build your resilience, and help you cope in healthier ways. In her book, The Upside of Stress, Dr. Kelly McGonigal shares evidence from the new Science of Stress that just holding this belief can change your relationship to stress and the outcomes. Ever hear of the Self-fulfilling prophecy, or placebo effect? There’s a similar thing going on here with mindset. Our beliefs shape our attitude, thoughts and then behaviors. And we tend to find what we are looking for, and act in accordance with our beliefs.
Now you may ask, “Why have a relationship with stress?” Because stress is a natural part of life, and the aspect that we have more control over than the stress itself is our response to it. Science shows stress can lead to many reactions besides the traditional fight and flight. Are you aware that we have access to the “challenge” and “tend and befriend” response that are also innate within us, which support health? By perceiving the “stress is helpful” mindset, we can identify what can be learned, look for the good in stress (perhaps a silver lining), and stop the auto-pilot of fight or flight response. By applying mindfulness we can pause, begin to see clearer, and intentionally choose our responses.
Applying Mindfulness to Stress
Jon Kabat-Zinn, grandfather of bringing mindfulness to the western world, and Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic and Program, as well as The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, shows how mindfulness (the ability to intentionally focus awareness on present moment experiences with non-judgmental and accepting attitudes) can support us living more engaged lives. Mindfulness allows us to perceive stress differently as we become aware of its effects on our minds and bodies. This awareness enables us to choose a response. In the MBSR course that I teach, we look at the circle of awareness as well as the stress reactivity cycle, and attend to where we may interrupt the conditioned fight or flight loop. One way to do this, as proposed by Elisha Goldstein and Bob Stahl in The MBSR Workbook, is to STOP:
Stopping and pausing whatever you are doing.
Taking a few deeper than normal breaths, to bring you back to the present moment away from your to-do’s and “should have” lists. Breathing this way nourishes and reconnects your mind and body, physiologically resetting the auto-pilot reaction cycle.
Observing what is going on inside and outside. Noticing the overstuffed inbox and overbooked calendar. Observing your thoughts (“I’ve got a lot of work to do here, will I make the deadline?”), noticing what you are feeling—exhausted, anxious, disconnected, and attending to how it is showing up in the body; a headache, your heart racing, and or pressure in your neck, shoulders, or even chest. Observing means taking note and allowing what is here to be here, and not trying to push it away or ignore it. You can then bring to mind your intention asking, “Where can I pause the auto-pilot reaction, what are the possible responses, and or what do I need in this moment?”
Proceeding to do the next thing that supports filling that need; take a walk or brief nap, connect with others (like our children or friends for a hug, or engage with a pet), or rise to the challenge reducing distractions, and managing time, boundaries and expectations more realistically.
We can influence our own well-being greatly, and relating to stress differently is one answer. The first thing to do to increase your stress awareness is to try on this mindset: simply thinking about how stress can be helpful, and what can be learned? And then STOP: bringing mindfulness to your moments, supporting healthy responses, and increasing your overall well-being.
Kelly McGonigal and Jon Kabat-Zinn go further to include additional steps, which I cover in the MBSR class I teach, and in the retreats I organize. Additionally, I include this kind of information in my coaching sessions… all in the name of well-being. Check out the rest of this site to gain more information, and you will see how YOU can go from STRESSED to BLESSED.
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!