Walking the labyrinth

This Wednesday I had a morning appointment in Saint Paul, and I decided to make a stop at the College of St. Catherine in order to walk the labyrinth.

labyrinth walk
Photo credit link – Meditate in a Labyrinth

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? I realize I should have taken a photo while there but I was without electronic devices on my walk, so I did not. However, I found a great article on how to meditate in a labyrinth, so I am cribbing a photo from that, and the link as well.

I did not use the methodology described in the Wikihow page, since I found that later. I did use it as a meditative experience, starting from the outside and walking toward the inside. Then I spent some time on the inside, taking a few deep breaths, and slowly walked back out again. I walked barefoot, and did not worry too much about the acorns in my way, though I did nudge away a few small branches that had fallen along the path for the next person.

My intention was to reflect, and consider the big changes happening in my life, the opportunities that are ahead, and any possible fears that come up. It was a walking meditation, a slow and intentional walk back and forth through the “folds” of the labyrinth. It occurred to me how I knew just a bit about meditation last time I was there, more than a decade ago, but walking through it had a sacred feeling.

labyrinth visual.JPG
Photo credit link – Fractal Enlightenment

As we traverse through life, our paths are not linear. Some of them meander and fold back on themselves. Some of them seem to go in circles, and we wonder: Are we in the same place AGAIN? But really we are never in the same place twice. Even if an event seems similar, or we seem to repeat a mistake we have made before, we are not exactly the same people this time.

Our lived experiences give us a different context. This is why I love the work of Marion Woodman so much. She understands that many of us learn in a non-linear way. We forget things we have learned, or sometimes we must re-apply lesson we have learned, but in a different way, or in a different relationship.

Our learning and wisdom are never lost, even though it may seem like we did not absorb a lesson the first time. Maybe we are able to see the situation in a different way, and are ready to learn. Maybe there was resistance the first time, and we were not ready for that lesson. We receive multiple opportunities and invitations for our souls to expand and grow.

This is why I appreciate the labyrinth and the symbolism of using it as a journey both inward and outward. We can incorporate our soul’s voice and also our “outer” experiences along the path. This integration ultimately leads toward wisdom.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Throwback Thursday: Noticing

This Thursday I am re-posting an edited piece from January 2018 and is dedicated to Ruth Silva, a favorite yoga teacher who helped me practice the principle of noticing.

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I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”

I really like this concept of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads rather than truly noticing.

Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I packed the coat in order to keep my hands more free. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.

people on phones
Photo credit link

I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.

This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’s way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention.

What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.

I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young.  It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.

airport travelers
Photo credit link

As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are taught to do. Of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile from him. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.

During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane. But she decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to have a conversation instead. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. Small world.

After that incident, where I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile, to be present. Many people  find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.

It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. What is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us? 

I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Wellness Wednesday – Forgiveness

How easy do you find it to forgive people? 

How easily do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake or do something wrong? 

I just finished reading Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, and I found the premise fascinating. She believes that what we think about ourselves becomes the truth for us. What we give out, we get back. The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought, and thoughts can be changed. We can change our attitude toward the past. To release the past, we must be willing to forgive. Also, she claims that “all dis-ease” comes from a state of unforgiveness.

She goes on to explain that forgiveness is not about condoning the behavior. It is just letting the whole things go. I agree that there are few advantages to holding resentment against someone for past actions. The past is over, and the more we time we spend on holding onto that resentment, the worse our health seems to be.

An article from Hopkins Medicine explains that unresolved conflict or chronic anger can put you in fight-or-flight mode, which results in changes in heart rate, blood pressure and the immune system. These changes increase risks of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.

forgiveness.JPG
Photo credit link –  Mindful.org: Forgive Your Imperfections

Forgiveness is an active process in which we make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not. Karen Swartz, M.D. director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, says forgiveness is a choice. “You are choosing to offer compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.”

Even if the person never apologizes, and you simply resolve this by journaling or through your own reflection, by letting go of expectations, you will not feel disappointed. When you start to acknowledge the fact that nobody is perfect, and that the action probably had nothing to do with you, and rather is a reflection of the other person’s capacity (or lack thereof) for love, you can move on.

While it is not easy, forgiveness will help you heal and move on with your life. Sometimes talking with a therapist or a trusted friend to receive a “caring witness” to your pain can help. But at some point, then it is time to let the past go. Remember: you are not hurting the other person in refusing to forgive, you are only hurting yourself by carrying that negative energy into your future.

A quote I love from Louise Hay’s book is:

Love is always the answer to healing of any sort. And the pathway to love is forgiveness.

Give it a try and watch your overall health improve as you develop a regular practice of forgiveness. Check out “You Can Heal Your Life” if you want exercises and affirmations to support this process of letting go.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

 

 

Unstructured time

Yesterday morning my husband took me out for a ride in his fishing boat out on the river where his mother lives, and on Big Wolf Lake. It was a lovely day, a little cool but beautifully sunny and peaceful since only a couple of fishing boats out that early in the day. We always enjoy getting out on the water.

clem in boat
My hubby, captain of the fishing boat

It reminded me of the summers I spent in Bemidji as a kid. Since my parents were teachers, they had summers off. So we would go to Grandma’s house for the summer, on Three Island Lake, and spend time on the water and relaxing with books and lots of unstructured time. I didn’t go to camps or have summer activities scheduled until I was in high school (and signed up for those myself).

Of course, we had chores to do when we were old enough, helping Grandma with the garden, the yard, dishes, grocery shopping and a few house cleaning tasks. But chores did not take up very much time, and for the most part, we had time to enjoy ourselves.

I loved to read, and there was a loft up above the garage that was my sanctuary where I was able to enjoy plenty of solitude and “thinking time”. My sister would sometimes join me, and we would play. Occasionally a cousin would visit for a couple of weeks, and we canoed or hiked with them. We did a lot of swimming on the lake, rowing out to the dock since it too weedy by the shore.

I am so grateful for that wonderful, unstructured time. Today as I consider what I will do with my time, I know that I need to plan things – I will go to yoga, I will spend some time de-cluttering and organizing. I will spend time reading, writing, doing errands and preparing for the upcoming road trip with my sister.

pelicans on big wolf lake
Pelicans out on Big Wolf Lake. Taken August 6, 2018.

There is a huge emphasis these days on productivity, on getting more done every day. I understand it. But I also want to celebrate time when we can just BE not always DO. I cannot remember who said once, “you are a human being, not a human doing.” But how often do we forget this? Our striving and wanting for more can draw us into a frenzy of activity.

Brené Brown writes about this in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” One of the qualities of wholehearted men and women is that they let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. It runs counter-culture to do this, and counter to many of our family admonitions. We saw parents who worked all the time, and saw “hard work” as valuable but play as lazy. Fortunately I was exposed to rest and play as components to a happy life, and I am forever grateful for that.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to enjoy unstructured time off. But it also reflects choices we make and values we have. I will probably forgo some “things” I could have or money I could earn. But I will live fully and gratefully.  I enjoy this moment that is here, and do not postpone my joy for some future that exists only in my mind.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Starting my Summer Sabbatical

This weekend we visited our families in Bemidji and relaxed after a busy week of finalizing my corporate position. While I am excited to start my “new thing” I also know that I need a break from the intensity of work for a while.

In the corporate world, it is not as common to take a break of more than 2-3 weeks (at the most) in the U.S. as it is in academia. But I have been dreaming of a break like this for quite some time now. I expect it will be ~2 months for me, and will conclude with my 2-week honeymoon Sept 5-19 with my husband (1 year wedding anniversary).

In the academic world, typically sabbaticals have are granted as a year free from teaching duties that could be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally this occurs in the 7th year. Sabbatical is related to the biblical “sabbath” in origin, the day of rest referred to in Genesis. Leviticus refers to an entire year of rest in the 7th year, as a way to respect the natural rhythm of crop-harvesting, and allow the land to lie fallow.

I love the concept of cycles of intentional activity balanced with intentional rest. An over-focus on productivity in our culture seems to rob us of the ability to rest and play without guilt. We feel like we have to “earn” our rest, and then, if we work very hard and have saved up a lot of money, maybe we can retire formally and finally rest.

sabbatical
Photo credit link

Personally the idea of going from full-time work, to full time retirement has always seemed weird to me, and not at all desirable. Work often gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, even while it can be the source of stress and struggle at times.

If you love your work and it is well suited to your skills and interests, it is something you may not wish to escape. While you may decide to “down shift” in your later years, or work less than full time, the idea of going from 100% to zero has never appealed to me.

Granted, in the days when work was largely physical and humans had a limited capacity for this enduring effort, it certainly made sense. Today, knowledge work demands high focus during “productive time” but can also require rest and intentional play for creative generation.

What if more of us had a more flexible approach to work and life, where we could take a couple of months off every year to recharge and refresh? How might this affect our quality of work, our quality of life, and perhaps even the planet and the environment?

My theory is that quality vacations and sabbaticals may afford the kind of down time that helps us appreciate what is good about our lives, and also what is missing. This time off has required us to put away some savings, and make some sacrifices in terms of luxuries and spending. To me, it is entirely worth it. I have planned 2-2.5 days a week to “work” and plan for my consulting launch.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity and shall make the most of it. My husband tells me the time will go fast, and I am sure it will. I have a stack of books, some Udemy courses to finish, a road trip with my sister, and other connections to renew. I shall savor my journal and writing time, will meditate every day, do yoga, dance and perhaps create some art.

What would you do with a nice, juicy sabbatical of a month or more? I would love to know. 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Saturday Share – Angle Full of Grace

Hello and happy weekend!

This Saturday’s blog share is Angle Full of Grace, written by Kellie Knight.

Kellie is a fellow Minnesotan located in the Northwest Angle of our state, a rather unique place that I must explore someday.

She writes about life at the Angle, community, spirituality, wellness and gives s a lot of helpful tips on minimalism with the “minimize minute” posts.

angle full of grace.JPG
Photo credit link to the blog

I write this as I am packing to head north for a weekend in Bemidji. I really am intrigued by her descriptions of where she lives, and the politics in particular. I believe she is a kindred spirit and I am always thankful that the internet allows us to connect with others who share similar views and values. What an amazing time to be alive.

Cheers & happy weekend,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Muscle memory

I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.

  1. Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
  2. Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
  3. Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.

What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.

muscle memory
Photo credit link – Snowmie (Stop Your Tricks)

I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).

I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.

When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.

There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.

As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.

What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com