Category Archives: meditation

When life hands you limes, make ceviche!

You all know the expression: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. It really means that you can turn the circumstances of your life into opportunities.

On my Monday trip to Mexico, I ended up in a bit of a situation – my flight arrived 30 minutes after the appointed time. When I reached Cancun, which was my intermediate stop on the way to Mexico City (I know, I know: I usually fly through Atlanta) I discovered the next flight was in a different terminal.  Then I discovered that the shuttle between the terminals only runs once every 20 minutes, which meant I would definitely miss my connection.

In the “olden” days as I will call them (before I started meditating and actively managing my emotions) I would have had a mini panic attack. I’d missed my flight, my cell phone wasn’t working and I was in a foreign country. Ack!!!

But this time around, I told myself: when I get to the terminal I will explain what happen and surely Delta will help me get booked on the next flight. There have to be several a day from Cancun to Mexico City. Sure enough, that was what happened. I’m not sure of Sky Priority status mattered or helped, but I did find some kind people right away who helped me get on the next flight which was due to leave 2 hours after the originally scheduled one.

ceviche and guac

I was left with actual time to have a late lunch or an early dinner, whatever you want to call it. I ordered my favorites: ceviche and guacamole and just settled in for an hour at the airport while waiting for the next flight. There was no panic, I didn’t stress over the hours of time I would miss. In fact, arriving in Mexico City around 7:45 instead of 5:45 means there will be considerably less traffic. There was no real harm done.

Later that night I had a chance to practice more mindful trip behavior as well. It turns out the taxi from the airport took me to the wrong hotel. My colleague had assumed I was going to the other address, so she told me “Colonia Escandon” rather than the location I had booked which was “Colonia San Jose.” So there was a difference in what I had paid at the airport versus the total amount due.

The driver was very kind about it, explained that I could pay him the difference. Only I didn’t have any pesos, and he did not have a credit card reader. Fortunately the hotel had an ATM, so I was able to get some local currency to pay him the difference.

These may seem like unremarkable incidents to a frequent traveler, and they are in many respects. But in my less mature days, either incident would have sent me into a mild panic (my mind racing to: “What the F*** am I going to do?”) instead of just calmly figuring out a solution to the problem.

Perhaps I am giving my meditation practice more credit than it deserves for this sense of peace and calm I have while traveling. It could be that I am a mature traveler, I know sometimes things go wrong. I focus on what I can control, not what I cannot. But I still think mindfulness practice has allowed me to slow down and think more calmly in situations that used to put me into a tailspin.

Reason enough for me to keep practicing every day. Have a great one, friends!

Advertisements

Responding vs reacting

One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.

To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.

For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.

In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.

This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.

This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.

But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.

It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.

It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!

 

Awe and beauty

Hello Friends,

This morning I had another intense moment of joy and awe while looking out my front window at the gorgeous sunrise. The photo does not do justice to the reality, but I will share it anyway.

Willy at sunrise

My cat Willy enjoys our morning sunrise contemplation as well.

Yesterday marked my first year of meditating consecutively every day, sometimes as little as 5 minutes, sometimes in silence, sometimes with guided meditation. My Insight Timer app showed 365 days in a row, with 440 days recorded since June of 2016.

I wrote in my personal journal yesterday about some of the shifts that have happened in my life since beginning this commitment. I wanted to add to what I wrote in my blog before, because now that I understand how profound this habit has been for me, I cannot help but want to share the joy of discovery.

The first big shift comes in my ability to recognize my thoughts as thoughts, and not as objective reality. There is something so profound in accessing this “watcher” self that can compassionately witness our inner turmoil. It is that quieter place within us that can tap into wisdom and truth despite the noisy world outside (and sometimes inside) that clamors for attention.

The second big shift has been in my relationships. I am not perfect, of course, but I  practice being mindful and conscious of the other person, versus my thoughts about the person. I believe it has helped me to listen more closely, to pay attention and to notice what the other person is saying, and the emotions behind their words. I am still practicing this, and do not always do it well – my husband can attest to this.

But I feel a tangible change in my “defense system” that is lowered and sometimes dropped. I can more fully BE with another person and empathize with them. I have compassion for myself if my mind wanders, and I have more curiosity about what they are saying rather than considering how I will respond. This process of noticing rather than reacting seems to transform the way I relate to people.

The third shift has been in my body. I consider yoga to be a part of my overall meditation practice and my spirituality. I pay attention to my breath during my yoga practice, and to feelings in my body. By tuning in, rather than tuning out, as I sometimes did when I used to run excessive miles, I access my body’s wisdom.

I was raised with a religious tradition that treats the body as “base” and “less than” our minds. And of course, our culture shames women’s bodies mercilessly, so I now understand how I came to be so disconnected from it. But when I honor my body, have compassion for her, and accept her just as she is, she can relax. I consider how much we attack our “divine feminine” and realize that she will always be with us, but she serves us better when we befriend her.

Mindfulness practice, whether meditation, or just noticing more deliberately the world around us, including the people we love, and maybe people we do NOT love, has the power to change us. Much more often I feel a sense of great awe and reverence for the beauty and blessings around me. Wow! I get to live this amazing life. What a gift.

Have a wonderful week, All.

Creating vs. consuming

Happy Friday, everyone! Also, happy Groundhog Day for those of you who pay attention to that sort of thing. When I woke up this morning, it was -10F without windchill. Brrrr! No matter what that groundhog says, we in Minnesota know it’s going to be MORE than 6 weeks of winter…

groundhogs

The most adorable groundhogs ever! Or at least I thought so. Photo credit link

So I crawled back into bed with my coffee, expressed gratitude to the universe that I can work from home this morning since I do not have in-person meetings today. I also gave thanks for the web and for remote teleconference meetings, which allow my work to be mobile and flexible.

Then I proceeded to get “lost” in some podcasts for a while before I meditated. When I finally did get myself out of bed and to my computer, I read a bunch of blogs, and really had myself a jolly old time. It reminded me of when I used to read Facebook and email from bed when I started the day, taking in a bunch of incoming stimuli before I’d had a chance to even wake up.

It was not a healthy way to live, and I would find myself in “reactive” mode by starting that way. I was subject to the whims of whatever was tossed at me by the social media “feeds” and whoever had sent emails to me. I have written before about my need to limit media consumption and to limit the noise of outside stimulation.

All of a sudden while reading and commenting on blogs, taking it easy, I realized it was 8am! That is the time I typically start work, even when I work from home. On a typical day, I am up around 5:45. I like to meditate and write before I have had a chance to get carried away by the incoming distractions of other stimuli. My goal is usually to have my post done by 7 or 7:15 so I can then switch gears and get on with the rest of my day.

Writing gives me energy and feeds me in a way I did not realize was possible until my recent commitment to daily blogging. By engaging in some creativity in the morning, my mind feels fresh and rejuvenated. Even when inspiration strikes me the afternoon or evening before, I like to spend a little time editing and re-working a piece before publishing.

Today’s altered routine got me thinking about creativity versus consumption. We live in a culture of constant consumption, and nearly constant invitations to buy things, or acquire more. Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing these things will make us happy, and that they are important. I can even be tricked into thinking acquiring more and more knowledge will make me happy.

To some extent, acquiring new knowledge does make me happy. The human brain is programmed to seek novelty and avoid pain. We get a dopamine hit when we learn new things and encounter new stimuli. But that constant rush of new information sometimes causes a plateau of that feeling. We need a break from it, and it can feel a little like that uncomfortable feeling after eating too much Thanksgiving dinner…

Ugh.

Another impulse we have as humans is to create. Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown have some great reflections on this highly inefficient and yet joyful part of our existence. Human beings are capable of creating things purely for the joy of it, for the satisfaction of making something new.

Music, art, fiction, poetry. These are not critical to our survival on a day to day basis, like food, water and air to breathe. And yet: they are critical to our survival as a species, as a united consciousness of humanity. They are ways we express meaning in our lives, and communicate to others, connect to people and the world around us.

Brene Brown says that creativity is not optional. I am paraphrasing here but she explains that “unexpressed creativity metastasizes.” (This is from her Magic Lessons podcast with Liz Gilbert). Brown has studied the habits and practices of “wholeheartedness” and people who live fulfilling lives. In order to live healthy and full lives, we must engage creatively in some way. We must go beyond working, consuming and working and consuming.

So I ask you on this Friday: how will you engage creatively today? What will you do to express this amazing and wonderful gift of being human? If your work allows and encourages creativity, fabulous! If not, consider how to create something instead of just consuming today. Whether it is a meal made for a loved one, a silly little rhyme made up for a child or a short story you have been dying to put on paper, indulge your creative spirit. Just for the joy of it. I dare you.

Do you have a few minutes?

Happy February! To those of you who live in northern climates, we are three fifths through the winter, mas o menos.

Somehow when we get to February I always feel a surge of optimism. Spring is not so far away now, and those of us who get a little “cabin fever” this time of the year start noticing more light in the evenings.

Last February I started a habit of daily meditation. I had been meditating before that, and developing some consistency. But last year, I fully committed to a minimum of 5 minutes per day. It was a do-able goal, and I count my yoga sessions as part of my practice, so with 3 classes a week, that made the goal easier as well. This weekend I will celebrate an entire year consecutive days of meditation.

It has changed my life, particularly since I have struggled in the past with a.d.d. Meditation has helped me calm my mind and become less reactive to the “bouncing” thoughts. I can observe them and not follow them. I notice when I am caught in a story that I am spinning, and start to question whether that is even true. I hold less judgment about my mind, and more curiosity.

To those who have been thinking about starting a practice, I encourage you to start small. Literally commit to only 2 minutes the first time, focus on your breathing. It may not be easy at first! But then add a minute a day, and see how this changes the quality of your days overall. It may take a few weeks before you really start to notice benefits, so give it at least 30 days.

People used to tell me I needed to have at least 15 minutes for it. That was a big barrier. I simply could not imagine how I would fit that in every day. Now I average a lot more than that. But if I only fit in 5 minutes in the morning, and then get 10 minutes on a lunch hour, I still do it. It is not always easy, and sometimes I feel “too restless” to want to do it. But those are the times I am most likely to benefit, I now realize.

Last fall I read Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body (Goleman and Davidson). For a clinical researcher like me, I loved learning about experiments, past and present to demonstrate the value of meditation. The authors actually critique some of their early studies, the bias and the lack of proper controls. They review the field and conclude that yes, even with some flawed studies in the beginning, reliable science is beginning to emerge on the benefits of meditation.

If the idea of silent meditation is not your cup of tea, there are many guided meditations available at the Insight Timer app that I use. Jon Kabat Zinn has a book called Mindfulness for Beginners with some guided meditations that I really like also. Another resource that was great for me about 2 years ago when I first wanted to commit to practice was Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

For those of you who have a regular practice, I would love to hear how you got started. As I like to say about sleep, doing more of it is like a super-power! If only I had known when I was younger. But I know now. So I will continue to encourage people to try it, and see what works for them.

 

 

 

Thank you

I often sit in the morning drinking my coffee while I watch the sunrise, along with my cat (Willy) who watches and seems to love it too. Or maybe he is just watching for the neighborhood dogs, I am not sure.

We have a really well-positioned large window in the living room. This photo does not do it justice, but the flaming orange, red, purple and pink colors make me breathless with wonder.

sunrise-jan-19-2018.jpg

It is these intense moments of gratitude when I feel myself losing the need to worry, and coming back to the present, where I have all I need in this moment. Such a simple concept, and yet we are drawn away from the present so often. It can be hard to live right here and now. So many distractions and enticements can take us away from the simplest joys.

Our habits of mind, well-practiced and reinforced by generations, have not placed value on being, just breathing and sensing. But that is okay, it is still possible to learn and practice this new skill. The practice of mindful gratitude, focusing awareness on our breath or just watching the thoughts come and go, is a foundation for joy.

Last night during yin yoga class I noticed my tendency to escape into my mind when I was in a more challenging pose. But I kept bringing myself back, breathing into some slight discomfort but allowing myself to stay with the sensations. This is good practice for sitting with difficult emotions as well.

Life will never be 100% positive, and that is okay. To be fully human is to feel good sometimes and bad other times. The range of emotion is a gift to us as humans, and the less we fight and resist the harder emotions, the more joy we can access. It is okay to feel sad and to grieve losses. It is necessary and good, and allows empathy for others.

Joy comes at moments when we are able to notice all the good within us and around us. It can also be practiced, and cultivated with thoughts of compassion and love. Saying thank you to the universe, to the spirit, to a family member, or to whatever moves us, helps us to access that joy more readily. Thank you, friends. I hope you enjoy your weekend.