Tag Archives: meditation

For Your Eyes Only

Many moons ago I was a somewhat serious student of Yoga.  I recall one particular class I was taking from a familiar teacher but in a new environment, thus, I didn’t know any of the other participants.  As we began to get into our poses, I recall looking around at others to see how I was doing in comparison.  My teacher, Lynn who knew me well, came over to adjust my posture and said with a kind but stern tone, “Keep your eyes on you own posture”.  She added for the rest of the group a few lines about the importance of inward focus and that it was not helpful to let our eyes wander and compare out posture to the performance of others.

Yoga is the practice of holding poses to increase self-awareness.  Its rewards include insights about how we trap energy rendering it helpless in facilitating own healing.  Yoga teaches us how to become aware of those blocks and to apply release in very specific ways.  It requires our attention.

 Yoga is also a metaphor of the rest of what we do in life.  How often I could use a “Lynn” around to remind me when I get dressed in the morning to not look around in my mind’s eye to see what I think other people will say about my clothing or my hair.  I could benefit from someone who would refocus me when I start to think about how my writing may impact this person or that.  She might say “Write what your heart tells you to write and don’t look around”.

I often notice that when I find myself discovering some juicy piece of information about another person and I go into judgment mode without thinking, a couple of things routinely result.  First, I don’t feel very good about myself and second, I usually lose track of the information pretty quickly because in reality, it serves me no purpose.  This doesn’t happen because I’m particularly enlightened, but the simple truth of the matter is that, when another person has done or not done something or anything, it really doesn’t have an impact on my life.  If Susan gets an awful haircut, Susan has to look at it every day until it grows out; not me.  If Pete wins the lottery, it’s unlikely he is going to share it with me so why should I spend time contemplating his advantages.

Even though we know this in our rational minds, more often than not we waste energy trying to anticipate how others are going to react to some aspect of us.  Sadly, we allow those anticipatory thoughts to become rules that dictate our behavior.  How unfortunate to make a decision to not allow ourselves an experience of joy because we feel someone else might have a reaction that, they will in all likelihood, either fail to notice or forget about moments after they do.  How sad to expend enormous amounts of energy only to gain the same pointless outcome.  How silly are we to make decisions of what to buy, eat, where, spend time based on others decisions, or worse still, our perception of their decisions.

Wayne Dyer said “If your voice was the only one you ever heard sing, you would think it was beautiful singing”.  How unfortunate that it becomes less than beautiful because you hear someone else begin to carry a tune.  Why must theirs be better instead of merely “not yours”?

For today consider practicing keeping your eye on only your own pose.  See how much enjoyment you can get from looking at your own actions as the only ones on the stage with no one else to judge or compare them against.

 

A Beautiful Monkey Mind

If you’ve been reading for a while you might wonder why I have been referencing old movies.  We’ve been trying to introduce our kids to them over time.  We want them to know the origin of some of the catch phrases and slangs that still linger, and we want them to enjoy some of the old stuff.  Not long ago we watched A Beautiful Mind, which still remains one of my favorites.

One of the parts which sticks out for me in that movie, is when John Nash realizes that the little girl never gets any older.  One of his recurring hallucinations involves his former roommate at college and the roommate’s young niece.  Although neither the roommate nor the child ever actually existed, they frequently appeared to Nash.  After treatment and medication Nash begins to realize that no matter how much time passes, the little girl never gets any older.  This epiphany helps him to realize that she isn’t real, despite his feeling her real in those moments.  In delusions, fantasy and imagination they can remain the same, but in real life, children age.

It made me think about a variety of things that we as humans cling to in an attempt to bring order to chaos, and comfort to our aches.  Feelings come and we develop stories out of our imaginations to cope with those feelings.  But those actions often require more details to make the story more real and sustainable for us.  Let’s say I’m having a party today.   I notice a feeling of discomfort.  Perhaps I’m merely tired.  But the chatter begins.  “I don’t feel optimistic that many people will come.  I can look outside and see some clouds.  I tell myself that it will probably rain.  Remember that other time you planned a party and it rained and the guests all got wet coming and going and it made everyone crabby?  And some of them left early because they didn’t want to get caught driving home in the rain.  It’s still early enough, I can just cancel the party now.  But then people might be mad at me because it spoils their plans.  And then….

This is brain chatter.  Buddhists call this “Monkey Mind”.  It’s the constant babble that plays incessantly in our brain.   We talk to it, and it talks back to us.  None of it has to be particularly “real”, but it can certainly occupy a lot of our time and energy and influence our actions and feelings.  One of the biggest dilemma’s I see with Monkey Mind is that just like Nash’s child never getting any older, our stories never progress.  While the subjects may vary, the process of the continuous loop stays the same and never really matures into anything useful. It can’t grow up because it is not informed by the present moment.  It lives in the past and the future, but not in the present.

To be in the present is to, as Carolyn Myss says, “Call your spirit home”.  It means to consciously choose not to give the Monkey Mind power to ramble on as much as it likes.  Being in the present is to notice where you are and what you are doing at any given moment.  This isn’t a permanent state to achieve, but rather an ongoing effort to keep bringing yourself back at the point you become aware you’ve left.  Like breathing, you don’t simply do it once and then you’re done.  You do it over and over, day after day. While breathing is automatic, you can also consciously alter your breathing if you choose.  You can speed it up, slow it down and break the automatic cycle.  The same is true of your thoughts.  They are yours, not the other way around.

Meditation is of course, the best way to practice developing this skill.  But its lack of appeal and difficulty turn people away from trying to practice.  So instead of saying, “Oh I can’t or don’t want to meditate for two hours a day so I won’t do this”, let’s consider another approach.  How about trying mini meditations in whatever it is you are doing.  So if you are washing dishes, stay present with washing dishes.  Don’t allow your mind to drift back into how dinner was, or shift forward to what you need to do when the dishes are done.  Instead, notice the water, how it feels on your skin.  Notice the movements you employ one step at a time to wash the dish and to hand it off. Engage your other senses, sight, touch, sound.    And since you probably do many tasks over the day, you probably have many places where you can practice this skill building even in short spurts.

I’d love to hear how this works for you.  Pay attention as to whether or not you start to see a reduction in your Monkey Mind, and if so what that is like for you.  You may notice an overwhelming sense of relief, fear, sadness, or any other emotion or combination.  Whatever comes up, ask yourself if Monkey Brain as the alternative ever makes those feelings any better in the long run.

 

Happy Hallowthankmas

Happy Hallowthankmas

This weekend is Halloween.  And the next day begins the official time where it’s legitimate to start the barrage of holiday ad campaigns.  That’s not to say that others haven’t already intruded into the not really legitimate time to begin because they have.

Come Saturday night doorbells will be rung by ghosts and goblins scarfing up as much candy as they can carry.  They will take home whatever doesn’t get eaten along their route.  Tired, and wired they will drift to sleep and awaken to parents who realize that it’s November and game day is in sight.  Short sight of only 7 ½ weeks and a mere five weeks for my Jewish friends.  Thanksgiving is just a means to an end; a kind of speedbump on the route to holiday shopping.  And with more stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, it’s not a very big speed bump anymore.

Maybe you are one of the wise men who have already done your shopping.  I doubt this makes you immune to the hustle and bustle which lies ahead.  There are outfits to buy, decorating to compete, parties to attend and a whole host of other unplanned for activities including family dynamics to wrestle with.  ‘Tis the season.

I’d like to propose an idea for you (and me) to think about this year.  I’ve noticed in the past that when I try to plan better I don’t get particularly great results.  For example, if I buy my kids gifts early, I usually end up buying a lot more because as the time grows close, their list gets longer.  I feel compelled to get the thing they now know they “really want” in addition to the things I thought they wanted back in August.   If I plan out my schedule, it often doesn’t include all of the spontaneous things that pop up. But there is also an element in my traditional approach to planning the holidays that contains the inherent quality of building expectations that will ultimately yield disappointment when they, are inevitably, unfulfilled.  I might picture in my head the perfectly decorated house because I’ve planned it.  Only to find that the light bulbs for the tree need replacing once it’s all done and putting new ones on after the fact doesn’t give me the look I had imagined.  Or the gravy turns out lumpy.

So my proposal is simply this.  Use this week before the insanity sits in to take a few moments and think about what you want the holidays to mean to you and how you want them to feel.  Write out a different kind of holiday list this year.  Here is an excerpt from mine.

I want to watch a great movie or two with my family over our time off.

I want to spend at least one lazy morning sleeping in and hanging out with my (3) boys in our pajamas.

I want to look at some old photographs from holidays past with them and share stories about their childhood and reflect on how much they have grown.

I want to try and focus more on remembering to be aware of the millions of things I already have to be grateful for, instead of looking towards what I don’t yet have in my life.  I especially want to try and practice this when I want to purchase things.

I want to celebrate that this is the time of year when I met my husband and started down this path of the life I so love.

My list doesn’t include shoes, or jewelry, or even a new toaster.

My list is still in progress.  What I want may be very different than the things you want and I encourage you to make your list a true reflection of your wishes.

So before your dreams of ghosts and goblins turn into sugarplums and fairies, take a little time out while time is still available.  Unplug from the cultural madness that is ready to pounce upon you and armor up with thoughts of a life designed by you rather than a marketing agency.

I’d love to hear some excerpts from your lists.

 

 

 

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

 

I had an unexpected complication in my first pregnancy. What started out as a nagging backache in my 11th week turned into a pinched nerve. I was getting ready for work when the pain literally dropped me to the ground. I somehow hobbled to the bed where I called my husband, barely able to speak and ended up going to the hospital by ambulance. I stayed in the hospital for 3 days while they tried to figure out what to do with me. Eventually a pain management doc started me on steroid injections which lasted several weeks outpatient.

In the first two weeks after the hospital the pain was really intense. I never slept more than 2 hours at a time. Frustrated one night I asked my husband “What if it’s like this the whole time?” He replied “Then it will be like this the whole time.” It was as if I expected him to come with an different answer because I wanted one. On another night in a sleep deprived stupor I exclaimed “I’m an American! This can’t be happening to me!” Brilliant- I guess only 3rd world countries are expected to have pain. Eventually the pain subsided. I was lucky.

A few years ago I met a young woman who had chronic headaches. I don’t mean take two aspirins and call me in the morning kind of headache. Rather, they were headaches that left her debilitated. Any kind of fluorescent lighting or screen light from electronics caused her considerable pain. She was forced to drop out of school.   After a couple of years she began to have some success with a variety of new treatments. It was hard to find hope when no one understood the cause much less the cure.

More recently I met Joyce who came to see me at the suggestion of her physician. Joyce has been coping with an excruciating pain which, at its peak left her housebound. She has tried every treatment she can find, both traditional and non-traditional. For the past several months Joyce has received relief through a medication intervention that has made the pain bearable, but it is far from gone.

Unlike my own experience of believing that if I could just use my national status or reason my way out of pain, Joyce, a very spiritual woman says that the pain has only strengthened her relationship with God. It has been educational, enlightening and frankly, beautiful to watch Joyce process her experience.   While it has been a journey for her, I will fast forward to the present resolution in the interest of brevity for this post. To state it succinctly, Joyce has moved from praying for the pain to be gone, to praying for the strength to use the pain as a tool to do whatever it is that God would like her to do in this world. Joyce has expressed that this reframe has enabled her to feel more empowered and less victimized by her circumstances.

I’m fairly confident that no one will read this post and hold up their hand to say “give me some pain please so I can grown stronger.” I think Joyce would really appreciate a vacation from her pain so she could get a good nights sleep that she hasn’t had in a very long time. But like many things in life, we don’t choose circumstances or pain that comes at us. Sometimes we do, but often we don’t. What we can choose is what we will do with it when it arrives.

I chose to become indignant. My first client chose to be focused on searching for a cure. Joyce tried both of those routes, but settled on a third posture. To find a way to keep living even with her pain, but even more importantly, to see it as purpose rather than ­­­­­persecution.

There is a wonderful little book called “Intoxicated by My Illness by Anatole Broyard. After learning he had terminal cancer, Broyard decided to use the metaphor of drunk as a way to describe how his illness afforded him the opportunity to fully live with whatever time he had left, without any inhibition or prohibition. In essence, he became “intoxicated” by the illness allowing him to do and experience every ounce of life in his remaining time. Broyard’s wife had to finish the book for her husband as he passed prior to its completion.

As author, Geneen Roth writes “Real people feel some kind of pain every day of their life. Living hurts, dying hurts.” And the Buddha says “Pain is inevitable, suffering is extra.” Which will you choose when pain, physical or psychological knocks at your door?

How to be a Birdbrain

 

 

For an audio version click on the link below

 

 

The recent storms created a lot of fallen trees in my subdivision which is mostly wooded. In fact, one of my neighbors had a rather large tree fall across their driveway. It was a pain to remove, but it’s also one of the expectable hazards of living where we do. Trees get old; storms knock them down.

I’m not so much of a nature watcher, but I suspect when a big storm hits birds don’t hang out in the trees. I have to guess that if they do, they fly somewhere pretty quickly if they feel a tree starting to sway and tumble.

But on a regular day, I imagine birds hang out in the trees for the most part, unless trees are not prevalent. And it reminds me of a quote I like very much:

A Bird Sitting On A Tree Is Not Afraid Of The Branch Breaking Because His Trust Is Not On The Branch But On Its Wings .

I guess to be a bird means to have faith when it walks out on a branch that, it will either be fine or it will do something else. In contrast, as people, we tend to think in advance about the branch, look at it, research branches, finding out the statistics on how many branches will break per year and under what conditions, and then try and make a calculated guess of whether or not we should step out onto the branch. After that, we invest more time still discussing our findings about branch safety with others to try and validate our plan. Very often this results in either not going out on the branch at all, because we haven’t finished the analysis, or forgetting what we went there for by the time we arrive. Possibly, what we went out there for has already passed.

On the other hand, there are also some humans that will tromp on out to the branch before they learn to fly which doesn’t usually end well either. One could argue that real faith means not even worrying about the flying part- trust that God or the universe or whatever you subscribe to will simply take care of the falling bird.   And so when they inevitably fall, they use the bump on their head as justification that God doesn’t really care about them, or even that, there is no God.

Do we really want to live in a world where something other than us takes care of every single for us? While it sounds tempting in those moments that we feel overwhelmed, the truth is that we derive a vast amount of our satisfaction and esteem from mastering things. We learn from the struggles and to have them taken away from us leaves us without much purpose in living. Faith is to fill in the parts we don’t need to struggle with. Faith is the connective tissue between the parts we do, and the parts we don’t.

The parts we do are simply “our part”. It means to develop the strength, skills, resiliency and in some cases, patience and understanding. And probably a few other qualities that I’m forgetting at the moment. So in short, it’s not about developing how to anticipate everything and account in advance for every unknown. It’s about developing a plan A to try and get down the right path, and a plan B for when A doesn’t work out. Plan B isn’t just a more developed A. Plan B is a strategy about how to be okay when Plan A doesn’t get you where you wanted and accepting that you have to live with the way things are now, at least for now.  Another way of looking at his is that Plan A is your willpower and Plan B is your willingness.

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Time to learn

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:

A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master: “If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen.” The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then ?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that ?” Replied the Master,” When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.” — Author Unknown

 

I often think of this story when people tell me that they are working really hard at something and it doesn’t seem to be happening quickly enough for them.

A young woman wants to find a mate and none seems available.

Another is eating well and exercising but is unable to lose weight.

A man is trying for a promotion that is taking too long while others in the organization seem to be moving ahead.

I recall how badly I wanted to have a second child and found it hard to get pregnant, yet every female under 17 seemed to be turning up with child whether she wanted to be or not.

It seems so unfair when we are working so hard for something that seems logical and possible and yet, it still doesn’t happen.

Or at least it doesn’t happen in the time frame that we have deemed reasonable. The dilemma in most cases is that, it is not our unilateral decision to deem what the right time or right amount of work parameters are actually supposed to be. There is a universe around us that has to also consider the needs, wants and expectations of a gazillion other people as well. What if that perfect mate is saying he is looking for someone exactly like us, but not for another 6 months because he has some other things to finish working on first? What if the conditions for us to have the promotion and succeed are not yet all in place?

The thought process of the western mind is cultivated in an environment in which 1+1=2. There is a specific sequence to follow and you get the prize. But eastern cultures cultivate a different mind-set. For them it is 1+1=3. I’m not talking about common core here. But the Easterners acknowledge that when you put two things together something additional happens by virtue of that union. The sum is greater than the whole of its parts. When you put a match and paper together, you don’t get paper and a match- you get fire.

I think there is great value to both eastern and western thinking and that wise people use some of both.   In the examples I mentioned, western thinking teaches us the value of hard work. But eastern thinking helps us to accept that there is more to consider than only our own definition of the way things should work. And that sometimes we need to let go of working so hard and allow time to follow its own course. Some things can’t be accomplished faster, just because it’s what we want.

 

Plugged In

 

 

If you’d prefer the audio version, you click on the link below.  If you are listening on a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the end of the message and look for the sound icon.

 

 

In my last post I talked about how I discovered a great quote from Steve Jobs that was delivered by Ashton Kutcher. Sometimes guidance comes from unlikely places.

What is this guidance and what do I mean by it? Some people call it merely coincidence. Here is a funny little coincidence. While I was writing that last piece I didn’t even know a movie called “The Butterfly Effect” existed. Actually, I remembered the Rad Bradbury story from when I was a kid. When I shared it with my Brainiac husband a few years ago, he linked it to the term butterfly effect.   As I started writing this, I Googled “Butterfly Effect” to verify when the Bradbury piece was written. The first entry was the Butterfly Effect, a movie starring none other than Ashton Kutcher. Weird huh? But it ironically validated my point that Ashton wasn’t the source of the inspiration, only the messenger.

Have I lost you yet? I hope not, but I’ll bring it a little more into focus now. Simply stated, I think guidance is simply the way that God, or the Universe or something greater than us, collaboratively comes together in ways to help us grow. And that guidance can take many different forms. I don’t exactly have an operating manual of how this works. And I don’t have any illusion that there is a little man behind the curtain orchestrating every detail of our lives and experiences to achieve a pre-planned outcome. It’s just how my mind attempts to make sense of things that happen along the journey of this thing called life.

So now I’ll introduce you to another person’s theory and how it has shaped some of my thinking. Carolyn Myss is an interesting thinking. Some of her ideas persuade me into thinking she is a genius while others make me wonder if she needs to have a medication assessment. I’m going to just highlight one of her ideas for you now.

Think of yourself as having a certain amount of energy available to you renewable each day. Let’s just call it 100 units to make a point. You start the day with 100 units, but once you are up and about, it starts to get used. It gets used on whatever you spend energy on both mentally and physically. Things that are past, unresolved issues are big energy users. But so are places where you are heavily plugged into cultural ideals and expectations. These items very often require a lot of energy to maintain. The reason for this is simply that they are driven from the outside and so you have to align your inside in order to get them done.

Here is an example. Let’s take sisters Jo and Flo. Jo is a simple dresser. She goes for what is comfortable. She can usually be spotted in a pair of yoga pants and a t shirt. Her feet match with sneakers or slip on’s. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She is clean, comfortable, and expends little energy trying to reach anyone else’s prescription of dress.

Flo, on the other hand, wants to keep up with the latest fashion. She first has to invest time to discover what that is, how to find it, afford it and finally wear it. If it is not the best for her figure type or age, she needs to adjust and compensate— more energy drain. And she has to spend more energy still monitoring the changes as someone else dictates the next signal to change.

So guidance works like this. It “comes to us” through the flow of our energy. It starts where we start in the day and gets up to the present moment. If it has to spend a lot of time circling around inside of you on a bunch of “stuck” places, it doesn’t find its way to the present moment that you are sitting in.

Again, here is the example.

Flo is driving down the street. She asks for a “sign” left or right at the next turn. Guidance comes, but spends its time wiggling around the places she has dispersed it within her psyche. By the time Flo hears a “little voice” or sees a sign, her car is already past the intersection. She has driven through concluding that no guidance was available. Although it actually was, she couldn’t hear it at the time she needed it because she no longer had enough energy/power operating in the present moment.

Something similar to this happened to me this week. I was working with a client of mine that I know really well. We were discussing her future as she is trying to decide what her next move will be in her career. In all likelihood a change in jobs will probably mean a location as well. I felt unusually blocked as I listened to her. In fact, I almost always have very strong and clear feelings when I work with her. I acknowledged this out loud to her during the session.

A few days later I was driving along and she popped into my brain. That in and of itself was not unusual as I generally process my sessions throughout the week in my head. But this time, I could see so clearly that what she needed was to slow down. I could so easily see how she was attempting to ask of herself, too many hard questions all at the same time.

I can’t say exactly what role my own energy delay played in this confusion. But I am sure that the session time we settled on was particularly late on Friday afternoon even though I had willingly agreed in advance. Sometimes that is not a problem, but it was on that day in retrospect. I was physically tired from the week and especially so on that day. My reduced energy level could not overcome her lack of clarity at that time.

So the take away from today is this. I am suggesting that guidance is available to us from sometimes unlikely places. But in order to access that guidance, it requires us to be aware of what we are plugging into, and how much it costs us to do so. We need to keep our energy (again, both physical and emotional) available in the here and now in order to access that guidance in the moment we need it.

 

Ain’t Misbehavin- Or are they?

Aint Misbehavin- Or are they?

 

 

 

 

To listen click the link below.  On a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the end of the message and look for the sound icon.

Do you have days, (weeks or years) when it feels like someone or everyone is just not behaving “right”? Of course, right as defined by you.

The reality is we all have to sometimes experience relationships where the other person’s choices and behaviors can make us pretty darn unhappy. Sometimes we simply choose to walk away. But what about when that person is our spouse… or our boss? Yikes.

One of my favorite stories comes from Psychiatrist Harriet Lerner formerly of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. It’s a personal story she told at a lecture many years ago about an encounter she had with her then 4 year old son Matthew. Lerner walked in her kitchen to find Matthew cutting an apple with a very sharp knife. Here is her account:

 

Lerner: Matthew, put down that knife. You’re going to hurt yourself.

Matthew: no I won’t

Lerner: Yes you will

Matthew: No I won’t

Lerner, pauses to think and comes back with: “Put down the knife because mommy is afraid you will hurt yourself”.

Matthew: “That’s your problem”.

Pausing again, realizing her son has once again outsmarted her strategy to change his behavior.

“You’re right. And I’m going to take care of my problem by taking the knife away from you.”

 

I probably think of Lerner’s story about once a week. It helps me to pause and think about “who has the problem?”

I’ll give you two recent examples.

The other night my son Alex and I went to dinner at a family friendly Mexican restaurant. The hostess seated us in a section where we were the only two people. About halfway through our meal two couples entered with small children. The waiters began setting the table up for a larger group. Within minutes blood curdling screams began to flood out of various children while they ran around the table as if someone had ignited a flame to their hair. Perhaps they were only looking for a way to put out the potential flames, but the parents responded quickly by ordering larger Margarita’s.

First thought- Those are awful people with big problems.

Second thought- I have a problem in that I am not enjoying the atmosphere where I’m eating.

I had a couple of choices. I could have yelled at them, or even asked them nicely to muzzle their children with duct tape. I could have asked that they buy a round of Margaritas for Alex and me, but he is underage and I had to drive home.   I could have asked to be moved to another section of the restaurant. But in reality we were fairly near completion of our dinner. So we finished up and left. We solved our problem. But it also turned into a great discussion with Alex, about how he and his brother behaved in restaurants when they were small. He asked how we had handled things in the past and we had an enjoyable ride home talking about stories.

 

Next scenario: My husband has a gift for calling me at the most inopportune time. Seriously, it’s like he divines the perfect moment when I’m in the car, about to go through the drive through or the news anchor is finally going to tell the story he has been teeing up through 5 commercial breaks. If you’ve ever been around me when my phone rings, I have a very dramatic ring tone to signal my husband is calling. A man with a deep dramatic voice says “Oh no, it’s Ben calling, what does he want… what   does     he   want? While dramatic music plays. (Yes, if you’re counting, that IS a lot of drama).

I mean this guy has a real problem right? Wrong. He’s just calling at the moment he either wants to tell or ask me something. The problem is mine. It’s that I obviously forget the phone has a silent option, or better still that to date, no laws have been passed mandating the picking up of a call when it comes in.   The problem has to do with why I feel compelled to answer it and interrupt MYSELF. (But I’ll figure that out on my own time)

I get it, these are small examples and when it’s your boss grinding on your last nerve more days than not it is harder. Or how about when you have a mother-in law that can rival Mrs. Wollowitz from The Big Bang Theory. I’m not suggesting a simplistic solution here. Only that you begin to look at what parts of tough situations you can have an impact on versus exhausting yourself with trying to manipulate those you cannot. And when you can’t take an action, you can still employ some of the techniques discussed in the last couple of posts, regarding the relieving of tension through philosophies of meditation and yoga.   At very least, when you feel you can’t DO a behavior to change your frustration in the moment; you can at least NOT DO something. With a clear head and reduced tension you can at least pause and use the pre-frontal cortex of your brain. This is where logic and reason are stored, rather than the Amygdala’s fight or flight response. The latter can prompt you into ordering larger Margarita’s or throwing your cell phone out the window. And remember, although Silence is Golden and Duct tape is Silver… it should still never be used on children.

 

I hope you enjoyed todays post And if you did, that you’ll forward the blog on to someone else. As always I appreciate your feedback, comments and challenges!

 

Not all who wander part 2

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In the last post I illustrated and discussed thinking of yoga as a philosophy rather than an exercise. As a philosophy, it becomes a tool that is helpful to you both on and off the mat.

So as I said previously, I had a regular practice of yoga. In contrast, I did not practice meditation. In fact, in one way or another, people probably suggested meditation to me about a zillion or so times over 20 something years. I even tried it a time or two, but mostly found it boring and not useful unless I was purposefully trying to fall asleep. I even started leaving yoga classes before the relaxation meditation at the end began, because if I stayed, I almost always woke up in an empty room alone. Yes, if you are wondering, that IS a little embarrassing. Sure, the room was empty when I woke up, but every person who walked out saw me their snoring away.

So suffice it to say, I didn’t see much benefit in mediation for the most part. But despite my experiences, I decided to again give it a try. And I made the commitment that I would sit for 5 minutes and try to focus on something. I found a comfortable spot in the room, sat on a cushion to make it official and I lit a candle as my object of focus. And I set a timer so I wouldn’t keep thinking about the time. It sounded something like this in my brain:

Just look at the candle, be here right now.

Oh my gosh this is boring

Just look at the candle

Candle

Candle

Did I take those steaks out for dinner?

Back to the candle stay with the candle

My leg itches

Back to the candle,

Look, I’m looking at the candle.

Just look at the candle,

Oh I have to remember to return that email

Back to the candle.

Okay, I think you get the point. My oneness with the candle and only the candle added up to about 22.3 seconds if you add all the snippets together. And so initially I concluded it was once again not useful.

But then something interesting happened. One day I was walking into work and I heard my brain start to ruminate over and over about something unrelated to what I was doing. And I heard a voice within (the okay kind of voices) say “be right here, right now”. And suddenly in that little statement I realized I had moved meditation off the cushion and into a philosophy that could be used anywhere, anytime, just as I had previously learned to do with Yoga.

The usefulness of meditation, I learned had much less to do with the moments of candle oneness and reaching some state of transcendental nirvana. But instead, its benefit was in training my mind to notice when it had wondered and to call it back home where it was needed, i.e. the present moment.

The benefit to doing the candle staring thing is to have a place to come back to. You can choose whatever you want to stare at, as long as it’s not the TV or the road while you are driving if you are trying to meditate. And it will take more than 1, 2 or 3 tries before this starts to sink in so be patient and persistent. But this is the kind of practice that makes YOU the master of your thoughts rather than the other way around. It teaches you that thoughts can come and go, but you need not follow them to wherever they desire to lead you just because they appear in that moment to compete with what you were otherwise doing at the time.

So give it a try. Remember this because it will be on a future quiz: MEDITATION HELPS TO ACTIVATE YOUR PREFRONTAL CORTEX.

I’d love to know if the audio version is working for you!

 

 

 

not all who wander are lost- but some of us do need directions

For an audio version of this post click here. On smart phones, you may need to scroll to the end of your email message and look for the little sound icon and click on that. I would also appreciate any comments about how well (or not) the audio option is working.

 

 

I used to be a somewhat serious student of yoga. I realize that some of you who know me may find this hard to believe, but it’s actually true. One of the things I most appreciated about yoga was a lesson I learned not about a particular posture, but about the philosophy of yoga. Rather, that yoga IS in and of itself a philosophy.

When you put your body into some contorted posture, you are purposefully (with intention) causing your body to have stress or tension. You hold that tension to increase your awareness of the tension and notice the nuances of your muscles under that stress. (which if you’re out of shape like I am these days, doesn’t take long for that awareness to become front and center in your brain).

Once you have established that the only thing you can now think about is that your are experiencing that tension, the next step is to round up all of your internal resources to try and calm the tension. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE RELEASING THE POSTURE. At least not yet.

It means you use your focus and your breath in harmony to try and ease the tension. For example, you might try and inhale the image of a soothing light into the tension, and exhale away pain. Use whatever imagery or thoughts work for you keeping the goal of making your breath the power or the tool of your brain to ease your discomfort. Stay in the moment of what is happening in your body right now and deal with only that.

When either you’ve gone as far as you can, or you’ve had some success, release the posture. If you didn’t achieve your goal, try it again later, but try to go a little longer than you did before.

So that is what you do in Yoga on the mat.

But as a philosophy, you have to take the yoga off the mat and it works something like this:

I’m standing in a long line at the grocery store. Or let’s up the stakes a bit. I’m standing in a long line at Hobby Lobby. The tension is mounting. I’m thinking I need to get home, I have stuff to do. I fold my arms across my chest and jut my hip out to one side to indicate to all around me that I am not happy to be sitting in this line once again. My face shows frustration.

Time for yoga.

No it does not mean to drop my packages and go into a tree pose or a downward dog.

But what is happening in that moment is that I’ve left the line. I’m thinking about where I want to be next rather than where I am right now and what is happening as a result of where I am right now.

So to start yoga (philosophy) at this point, I first need to relax my body a little. Uncross the arms, stand up straight.

And then, just like above, I start using my breath to go in and heal any remaining tension. I focus on where I am right here right now.

The magic of focusing on your breath is this: You cannot think of two things simultaneously. When you are focused on the breath, you can’t think about tonight’s dinner or the clothes you left in the washer or how bad traffic is going to be. Those are “not here”. The breath is “here”.

Why is it important to be “here” over being “not here”. Because regardless of where your brain wanders, your body remains “here”. And if you don’t attend to it with the presence of your brain, you leave yourself at risk. It’s kind of like a headless man running around trying to find his way around a crowded room.

When you stay present with your mind, you keep your “head on” making it much easier to navigate which direction you are trying to go towards. You can address the obstacles that come into view in real time, rather than having to deal with the after effects caused by bumping into stuff you didn’t plan on. Think of it like this, You are walking in a room with awareness and you notice the rug is crumpled. Because of the awareness, you notice the crumple, and walk around it or bend down and straighten it out before passing. Without the awareness (because you are instead thinking about where you are ultimately going), you trip over the rug, fall and hit your head. Now you have to stop, prolonging your journey and attend to the bump on your head.

In the next blog I’ll extend this to meditation. And let me tease you by saying that I have always thought probably far worse and boring things about meditation than you might conjure up at its very mention. So try and keep an open mind and check back for Sunday’s post. I promise no caffeine will be necessary to keep you awake through it and you won’t be asked to sit on a small cushion for 3 hours chanting “om”

 

 

Crash

for an audio version of this post,  click on the link below- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may have to scroll to the end of the post and look for the sound icon

 

Last week a woman was reportedly killed when she slammed into another car on the road. Authorities believe she was posting to Facebook how much she enjoyed the song “happy” at the time.

Yesterday I started to put a flash drive in my computer. It didn’t seem to want to go initially so I gave it a little extra push. It went in. And the screen went black. The computer would not turn on again.

This morning after I dropped my son off at school I was sitting at the entrance to my subdivision waiting to turn in, waiting for several cars to pass. The entrance is just after a blind curve. In the rearview mirror I saw a car coming around the curve very quickly fighting to slow down and avoid hitting me. Fortunately, I was awake and had a little extra room so I rolled forward a bit to give him more room. I noticed after he came to a stop he appeared to be picking things up from the floor board that had obviously fallen due to his abrupt stop.

Please don’t misconstrue that I think my two events are remotely comparable to the first tragedy. But the common link is that in the first two examples the intended plan not only failed, but it ended future plans in a flash (no pun intended regarding the computer). Fortunately for all, in the third case I was alert and present.

We all have in mind a strategy, a goal or a destination. We develop a path or a plan to get there and we can see it in varying degrees. We don’t normally work into the plan a provision for the crash, car or computer. But unfortunately, we often don’t take the time to be mindful in order to work in the provision for it not to happen.

What would have happened had the woman thought about the fact that she was driving and it was more important than letting her Facebook friends know about her musical preference?

What would have happened had I stopped and thought that it is not normal for Flash Drives to have such difficulty entering a USB port?

What would have happened if I had not been paying attention this morning at the entrance? Or if the other driver had been?

There is a saying “there is never enough time to do it right the first time, but there is plenty of time to do it over again and again.”

The art of Mindfulness is about slowing down, noticing the nuance of the ordinary both within and externally. It is a practice that must be cultivated to be effective. It is not only something one does, but something one is or becomes.

Is there anything you are neglecting or taking for granted simply because you are not aware? If you knew that your lack of awareness would cause it to change drastically for the worse, what would you do differently? Imagine playing the tape forward of the undesirable outcome. Then play it a second time in slow motion with a posture of mindfulness. You still have that opportunity.

Another excerpt part 2

As promised, this entry includes a diagram to help illustrate the practical application of the theoretical concepts I described in the previous blog entry.

 

This diagram is by no means intended to be complete or universal, although some of the items listed actually are fairly universal.

 

Remember, our infant in the crib experiences an overwhelming sense of panic (annihilation) and screams.  Our current self can experience a reactivation of those feelings, or “wake up” or engage that infant self, by events happening in the here and now.  For example, maybe a friend doesn’t call me and I was expecting, even counting on hearing from them today.  Perhaps it activates old feelings of abandonment or shame.

Even though I can feel the emotions of my young child self or even infant self, the adult in me won’t allow me to start screaming in the room, because I know there will be consequences of behaving inappropriately.

 

So I turn to act out the frustration by using something.  In the earlier blog I used food.  It could also be alcohol, drugs, sex, overwork etc.  The symptom language can change but the concept is consistent.  My sense of self has disintegrated or fragmented here by having my multiple “parts” competing with each other.

Recovery or healthier living is based largely on the concept of healing that split and having the parts work together more cohesively.  This requires that my adult part work on behalf of my child parts.  It also requires that my child parts feel safe enough to inform my adult parts accurately.

I have listed out some basic categories of self care.  These are colored orange.  What you choose to prioritize may be somewhat different and so I have created purple spots that are blank to show that more items could be added in to complete this picture.  Other suggestions might be family, pets,  spirituality or finances to name a few.

I worked through the diagram for some, but not all of the orange categories.  Had I worked through them all, I would have drawn a green and a yellow box for each as I did for the completed ones.

The green boxes indicate how the orange item is helpful to the adult part of me.  The yellow boxes signify how the same action is helpful to the child part.  They can sometimes overlap.  The key differences, however is that the adult part usually benefits from the literal result of the category, while the child self, benefits from the symbolic or relationship securing aspect of the act.  It’s more about security or safety and reassurance from our child self.

 

I hope this illustrates why someone might read a self help book- feel better for a bit and then abandon a healthy choice even though it rationally seems like a good practice.  Usually it’s because they are trying to appeal only to their adult self, while still ignoring the needs of the child part within.  So, it’s not simply the act of “doing” the types of things listed, but making a commitment to the child self about why you are committing and then applying the consistency of follow through.

“I’m choosing good relationships because I want you to see how terrific of a person you are reflected back to you.

“I’m going to try starting the day with an affirmation so that I’m in the right frame of mind to take good care of the value that is you today.

“I’m going to try and maintain this schedule of structure so you will know that I’m going to be available and not too scattered all day long to hear your needs.

 

These are only a couple of examples to illustrate this internal dialogue that needs to accompany the actions.

 

I hope this is clear and useful.. I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions for clarification.  Clicking on the picture should enlarge it for clarity.

blog entry jpg

 

quiet time

for an audio version of this post, click on the link below- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may have to scroll to the end of the post and look for the sound icon

 

If someone asks you to think of your “happy place”, where would you pick?  For me, it is almost always running my hands through the silky curls atop my youngest son’s head.  And fortunately, he is still young enough that I get the chance to do this in real life, not just in my mind.  I think of it almost like a meditation.  And it goes something like this…

Look at him

He is so beautiful

This moment is so perfect

Wow, I’m here, being with him right now

No, don’t think about it, just do it

Its great

It’s great that I’m here just being

Wait, I’m thinking about it again, I’ve left being to thinking

Think about him, be with him

He is beautiful

I wish I could stay in the moment

 

And so it goes when I try any form of meditation.  I want to be “in the moment”- but I leave the moment to think about being in the moment.  Productive?  Yes and no.

I used to think meditation was the state of being absent of thought- just being still and void of thought and distraction.  But I have learned that’s not really how it works—at least not for me.  The real benefit I have learned from meditation is that it’s a place to practice bringing my mind back to the still and the quiet, if only for a second or two at a time.    But the act of bringing my mind back itself is a useful skill that I can apply at other times in my day when I get distracted from what I want to be doing.

I walk into a room looking for my keys.  I notice a glass on the counter.  I start towards the glass and hear myself say “not now- just look for the keys”.

I want to sit at my computer to write, and an email comes through catching my eye- “focus on your writing, the email can wait”.

I’m cooking baking and following a recipe and my kids come to tell me about something non-urgent-  I  stop and listen to them.  Oops- last week that resulted in my forgetting to put the eggs in to the muffin batter.  They didn’t turn out so well.  I wish I had used meditation.

There are a million distractions around us every single second. The choice to follow them… or not is up to us.  Carolyn Myss calls this the act of “calling your spirit home”.  Although we have a culturally prescribed proclivity towards doing several things at once, our brain can only process one at a time.  Forcing it to do more is not good for us.  The way to focus on a single track at a time is simply to practice. So pick your happy spot and visit often.