Thought cascades

I found myself with a little extra time yesterday between commitments. I took advantage of the time to meditate for a bit. It got me wondering about “thought cascades” and the way in which our minds work.

Thoughts appear during meditation, like bubbles. Jon Kabat-Zinn called them in one of his meditations “secretions of the mind.” They just float or bubble up. We don’t need to get rid of them or feel frustrated that they keep coming. We just need to notice them.

One thought leads to another…and another…and another. Really the mind can be quite tedious when we observe it.  “Why can’t it take a damn rest?” I wonder, but this is typically when I am trying to get to sleep. I am a lot more compassionate with myself during my daytime meditations, apparently.

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Photo credit link

Thought cascades tend to produce certain emotional states as well. If we find ourselves ruminating on a problem, or a stressful situation, we bring ourselves back to the breath and the sensations in our bodies. I often notice my shoulders have tightened up or my jaw is clenched. I did not used to notice that. It took pairing yoga with meditation for me to understand it. 

On Monday I had an interview for a new contract that excites me. I tried to notice my thought cascades during the interview and afterward. I realized my mind creates a trail of expectations, assumptions and details, making up stories freely as it tumbles along. At least I know from Dr. Brené Brown’s work that this is perfectly normal. In fact, our brains reward us with dopamine as soon as we “tell” an internal story, whether or not it is actually true.

This is why meditation has become such an important daily practice for me. For over two years, I have spent at least 5 minutes a day on this practice. Actually for the past year, it was much more than that, but I started small to make it do-able.

Thought cascades for someone with particular neuro-diverse conditions can be especially problematic. Most people seem to have “brakes” for ruminative thought loops. Not everyone’s neuro-chemistry supports this easy compartmentalization. What is amazing is that focus can be built and nurtured, even for people like me! Meditation is a tool for doing that.

Now the cascades are quiet and flowing. Sometimes they are turbulent and rushing. Every time I bring myself back INTO my body, feel the aliveness in my hands, my feet or my heart, thoughts slow down and the volume descends. There is no greater gift than being able to dial it all down when needed.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Watch the Bullets – an experiment

People have often recommended to me that I must try a bullet journal, if I truly want to keep myself organized. When I watched Ryder Carroll’s You Tube video on why and how he created the bullet journal for himself, I definitely felt that “click” in my brain that tells me someone is speaking my language. (Sometimes it’s more of a tingle in my spine rather than an actual click, but you get my point.)

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Found this cool bullet journal on Amazon, but it’s out of print now. 😦

Carroll titles his Ted Talk “How to Declutter Your Mind” and he talks about his experience with a.d.d., which he eventually outgrew. In the process, he designed a system to help him keep track of things, while also being mindful about not wanting to focus on too many different things at once.

We live in a world with so many choices, and for many of us, more freedom than ever. This is why minimalist living has become increasingly appealing to me. Decision fatigue is a real thing. And for those of us who struggle with some attention issues, de-cluttering our minds by creating a mental inventory and writing things down is important.

Once it is written down, we can ask ourselves: do these things matter? Or are they just fleeting notions that take up mental space? Once we cross off those items that do not matter, or that we truly do not need to do, the list gets smaller.

Paying attention to “small projects” that hold our curiosity and recording these, we intentionally make space in our lives to do them. Carroll breaks these into month-long chunks, because it makes them more manageable.

Over time, we make adjustments, through a periodic process of reflection. We keep the mental inventory updated each day (more videos here if you want to explore). On a monthly basis, we take a more top-oriented view, setting intentions that are longer-term in nature.

I tried the practice in January to see if it works for me, and I discovered a few things:

bullet journal monthly log
January monthly log
  1. I love the idea of looking 3-6 months and putting a “future log” on paper to approximate when I want to complete certain things. Even if you don’t anticipate everything, it helps set direction.
  2. The monthly log rocks. One line per day, really got me to reflect on only 2-3 high level things I accomplished in that day. It was a nice way to look back and see what I did that month in a 1-page summary.
  3. The daily logs are a struggle for me. I am customizing the bullet process, and the migration process to my own brand of check boxes and “swivels” to bring forward the tasks I want to keep. But that is what Ryder recommended anyway. It is why bullet journals are mostly blank – YOU fill in the system that works.
  4. You must exercise compassion. I did not sit down and do my February plan until the 7th of the month!! I think I was reluctant to admit that I didn’t follow the exact program in January (and I didn’t want to beat myself up over the things I did not finish). But I am using compassion with myself to migrate the tasks that are still relevant, and cross out the ones that obviously were not.

I may write about this experiment again in a month, because I am curious about whether February’s efforts will be refined. I want to improve and customize. I should mention that I still do a “shape of the week” in parallel in which I graph out one full week and fill in the sections with my overall time chunks, and then track actual time.

For those of you who have taken the “bullet journal” path – does it work for you? What clever modifications have you added to make it even more functional? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Releasing and integrating

On New Year’s Day this past week I attended a 2-hour yoga workshop in which I had the opportunity to reflect a bit on the past year. After some journal writing and reflection, we did a yoga practice and then finished with a meditation practice.

I enjoyed the opportunity to “digest” a bit of the past year, to celebrate it and to consider my strengths, or any limiting beliefs. In the final meditation the word/concept “integrate/integration” kept emerging for me, and variations on that word: integrity, integral, etc. I started thinking about the root of that word (think of integer) which is to make whole.

what do you need to release

That seems appropriate, since this past year felt in many ways like a dismantling and releasing of what was no longer serving me. Then on Sunday I had another impulse to de-clutter, and to organize in my office (not something that comes naturally to me) so I followed it.

I allowed myself some time and space to consider the objects and books I have collected. What is that path of curiosity telling me? Which things can I can release? I have tried following the Kon Mari approach to do this all in one big project (which can take up to 6 months, she writes). But I have found I follow more of a spiral or cyclical path when it comes to releasing things. And that is just fine.

Releasing is necessary because we hold onto so much that we no longer need. This can be physical stuff, but more often it is out-dated stories we tell ourselves. I find that is the more “sticky” of our stuff. It is easy to give bags of unused and unneeded things to Goodwill. But how often do we enter into our deep consciousness to see what is floating around in there, and question if we want to keep it there? 

When I did a coaching series with Elizabeth Dickinson this past fall, she was able to identify a few of the beliefs (or stories) I had carried about money that did not match my current reality. What an amazing gift, to release an old story that was holding me back. At one point, that story may have had a purpose. But it was at least a decade out-of-date. So I started trying on a different story, reinforcing a new belief that serves me better.

What is it you may need to release in order to thrive in your life? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Finding your edge

As I was sitting my evening yin yoga class on Thursday, I found myself thinking about where my “edge” was. For those of you who have not practiced yin, it involves long-held poses where you relax into a pose for typically 5-8 minutes.

Typically you just soften into a pose, where eventually you find a bit of an edge, a slight discomfort when this pose is held. This allows the fascia, or connective tissue of the body, to respond to a gentle stress. It can allow for greater flexibility and release some tightness which we often develop over time, sitting for long periods, or doing repetitive actions.

I have been practicing yin yoga for 4+ years now, and I have to admit, when I first tried it, I did not like that discomfort. I was restless. I wanted to move, to come out of it. But as I practiced, I learned to sit with the discomfort, observe it, notice how it changed and shifted even when I was very still. Now I rarely miss my yin classes twice a week, I have learned to embrace that edge, and to understand the benefits of this practice.

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Sunset at the “edge” of my day today – gorgeous

When I think about life also, I believe we have a “growth edge” in our lives. We have a place where we long to lean into it, to embrace the slight discomfort that comes from trying something new or practicing a new skill. At first, our minds resist: this feels unfamiliar! Am I doing it right? What if others laugh at me? What if I make a mistake?

These are thoughts I had when I first started going to dance in 2018. I felt very self-conscious. A 40+ year old Latina that can’t dance?!? But I moved toward that growth edge. You might say I danced toward it, and decided it was quite delightful, actually.

At work, I tried new things I had never done before. Eventually I decided to strike out on my own, leave my corporate job and make my living via freelance work. *That* is definitely the biggest “growth edge” of my past year. But all the edge means is that we feel uncomfortable at first, and our brains are new to this activity. Typically the brain protests a bit, since our primitive evolution designed us to seek comfort and pleasure and to avoid pain.

As we lean into that growth edge slightly, we find that we loosen up. We may notice things we did not realize before. We may actually *enjoy* some of the new things we try, even if they are edgy at first. We definitely learn along the way, and if we persist, we may even master some new skill, discover some new capability we did not know we had. It can be very exciting, embracing that edge. Not so that we fall off, but so we can see our world in a new way.

What is your “growth edge” for 2019? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Work sprints

I found myself with another short article-writing project on Wednesday, due on Friday. I am getting used to these quick-turnaround pieces, and rather enjoy them. Though the pay is not large, they are good practice for my “journalistic” style and for working with an editor.

It reminded me of a strategy I used to use when I used to procrastinate on a project, and I think I learned it from Martha Beck back in the day when I was in grad school. It involves taking a huge project and breaking it into short chunks of only 15-30 minutes at a time, especially if we are avoiding just getting started. Often, just starting and gaining  momentum is the hardest part.

Nowadays, I can usually set a timer for 60-90 minutes of uninterrupted work at a time because I have worked up to that. The idea is that you set everything else aside and just focus on that one thing. It is harder to do that in an era when we often feel tied to our inboxes and phones.

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But really: email is not urgent. If someone cannot wait a day or two for a response, they should call you on the phone. We need to de-condition people to getting automatic responses from email, social media and all the other distractions.

After my 60-90 minute sprint, I typically take a break of 20-30 minutes. Research shows that few humans can focus behind 90 minutes anyway, due to our ultradian cycles. These are basic rest-activity cycles discovered in the 1950’s. When we respect these rhythms of focus and rest, we can better manage the ebbs and flows of our energy and be much more productive.

I think that is one problem with corporate work environments. Typically they are built around an 8+ hour workday, and are not sensitive to human rhythms or people’s individual chronotypes, which also influence their productivity. When I complete 3 of these focused 60-90 segments in a day I typically get a mountain of work produced, more than I ever did in a corporate day that was highly interrupted. I am so very grateful for being able to manage that and design these “work sprints” for myself.

What is your cycle for accomplishing your best work? How can you plan to incorporate that cycle into more of your days?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com