Seasonality

Today was a trip down memory lane in a way, but at the opposite side of the season in which I was married a year and a half ago (September).

Gooseberry Falls
Gooseberry Falls – still quite icy but flowing as well

I reflected on how different Gooseberry Falls State Park appears when it is covered in snow and ice, but also with strong and flowing currents. Seasons change, and nature has cycles. And yet humans so often want to keep push, push, pushing forward rather than allowing time for stepping back, reflecting, and renewing.

My biggest takeaway from this current phase in my life is that these “winters” of our souls are healthy and necessary for our growth. As I contemplated my gratitude for this time, I realized that I have no regrets.

I appreciate the nature of the cycles in my life.  There are ways in which I take in knowledge and wisdom and then process them. I use them as raw materials to create the next phase of my life. And even if I have a vision for what that might become 5 years out, I can only take the next step in front of me. I need not know every step along the way.

Spring is a season of re-birth and re-discovery. We do love our Spring in Minnesota. We emerge from the cozy habitats we have occupied for the winter, renew our connections to other people. We are prepared for new journeys, and turn our attention toward a new set of activities. There is so much beauty in allowing and appreciating those cycles.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Wellness Wednesday – rest and digest

Now that the excitement of this midterm election has come to a close, it is time to rest and digest. After all the “aerobic” energy of the campaign and election season, and as we process the results, we must enter a season of pausing and reflecting.

I am relieved this election cycle is over. Some of the returns have yet to be finalized but I am happy to see that the turnouts were high, and more women were voted into office than ever before.

Rest and digest.jpgThough I did not get to bed very early because I was still watching election returns, I know I will need some down time to recover this week. I identify as an introvert, so I am aware of my need for more down time than the average person. I have found that if I approach life in terms of cycles of intense activity followed by adequate rest, I am able to make better decisions for the long-term.

Maybe it is a product of age or maturity but I feel like it is easier to see the big picture than it used to be. I recognize that it is necessary to regroup and recharge between the intervals of intensity. As it turns out, this is how we best deal with stress in our lives. Stress in itself is not bad, and is in fact necessary in a healthy life.

But chronic and unrelenting stress for long periods take a toll on our bodies, our immune systems and our mental health as well. So take a break, gather your energy, allow some time for reflection and recovery. We will live and be stronger in case we need to “fight” another day for important causes that matter to us.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Time zone and life zone changes

Hello Friends!

Wishing you the very best as folks head back to school and we ease into the fall season. I read Libre Paley‘s post this weekend on The Kinder September and it got me to think about my approach to this change in season and that “September feeling” that some of us have.

I have always loved September. The crispness in the air, the waning of the summer humidity and the new school supplies were always a fun part of a new adventure. In my youth there was a new school outfit, eagerly worn on the first day (even though the weather may have been too warm). We reunited with friends and classmates. And there were new things to be learned and studied! (Yes, I was a geek or nerd, pick your label.)

As I have become an adult, I recognize this pull to start a new thing in the Fall. Last year it was my marriage and this blog. There are cycles to life, and there are cycles in seasons. Respecting this and honoring the transitions that accompany the cycles is vital to our health and well-being.

In the Fall, I try to get a little extra rest as the seasons change. As the darkness arrives, I try to make time for a cup of hot tea when it feels cozy and fulfilling. I eat soups and hot foods in addition to my daily salad. I plan for time to connect with loved ones.

time zones
Photo credit link

This year I am taking a 2-week trip with my husband to the U.K. (England and Scotland) to celebrate our first year anniversary. Right after our wedding we spent a few days in Mexico, but it was not a long enough break. So we saved to get ready for this trip. Since September is “shoulder season” for vacation travel, it is not as expensive for flights and hotel reservations as peak season.

The 6-hour time shift will be a little mind shift outside our routine “life zone” and will allow for some time to connect mindfully. I love travel adventures, especially when my husband is with me. We always enjoy new experiences, and come away with stories, shared jokes and a slew of yummy photos.

He is the better photographer, so while I may not post daily during our trip, when I do post, it is likely to show off his photography. 🙂

Hope you enjoy your month of September, and if you are in a “life zone” change of your own, I want to read more about it!

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Mindful return to daily life

Sunset on Isla Holbox
Sunset on Isla Holbox, a favorite vacation spot in Mexico

Returning from vacation is always bittersweet. The lovely days of enjoying the time without a focus on schedules, plans, to-do lists and routine activities can be hypnotic. I treasure the restoration that accompanies this slow and easy life that allows one to appreciate the luxury that is time, and the abundance that is our life.

When I return to work, I sometimes struggle with keeping the composure that seems to accompany “island time” while on vacation. We visited Isla Holbox while on a brief honeymoon trip after our wedding. It was a location we had visited before, 2 1/2 years ago during February. This time, it was hotter and more humid (77F dewpoint), so that forced me to go much slower than the pace I usually move. Never a fan of heat and humidity, I treasure the crisp autumn weather in Minnesota. But in any case, the island temperature called us to slow down, to walk more mindfully and to adjust our overall pace.

For many years I have been a runner, and in the past couple of years have focused more on developing my yoga practice as a component to living a more mindful, intentional and conscious life. While I still enjoy running and it helps me calm myself in some ways, I realize that slowing down is also a necessary and vital component of my wellness and vitality. Tuning into that “frequency” deep within, that is so easily drowned out by so many other noises in the outer world has become fundamental, not optional, to the way I choose to live.

In returning to work after the wedding and the vacation trip, I am realizing that this is when the “rubber hits the road” as far as putting that mindful, slower, intentional practice to work in my life. Retreats from the world and from the daily routines can help us re-establish a rhythm that is more amenable to those quieter forces within us that wake up only when we really listen. And to listen, we must sometimes turn off the outside influences that may appeal to our minds and our desires for more knowledge, more data, more connections in our neural networks. But in the same way that pruning the old, dead blossoms from a flowering plant helps the other flowers to flourish, our minds seem to require this pruning.

By meditating, and for me this means watching my thoughts come and go, I am able to give myself that necessary quiet space to allow for greater growth in the long-term. Now that it has become a daily practice (sometimes for as much as an hour, but more often, as little as 5-15 minutes) I have begun to understand, and just lightly “taste” the benefits, while opening to new insights. Yesterday while traveling home a number of different situations presented themselves that in the past may have caused anxiety, but I was able to handle them gracefully. I am far from perfect, but I am learning to see how this practice can help me bring some of that vacation mindset back to my daily life and to my work.

Martha Beck recommends a practice of “vacation from predation” which I believe comes from her book, The Four-Day Win. I am paraphrasing and giving my interpretation of this, but what it means to me is to realize that whatever stress we may be feeling, most of us, at any given moment are presently safe. I realize this reflects privilege to say this, and indeed there are many instances when people are not safe, but there is also so much stress and suffering that are added by our minds, by our thoughts about whatever is our current situation. It is actually those thoughts, not the situation itself which cause anxiety and stress. The situations themselves are neutral and to a large extent we can choose our reaction to them. We can observe our emotions and become aware of our thoughts and then realize that the “stories” we use to interpret, filter and process those situations are what drive and feed those emotions.

As I return to my email inbox, the appointments that will pop up on my calendar and the responsibilities of my day-to-day life, I will strive to remember this wisdom and to practice compassion for myself when I do sometimes over-react. My amygdala is trained and has its habits, which require some re-training.  I also have better tools to calm these over-reactions and to keep events in perspective. This makes me profoundly grateful.

Cycles of Life

I am entering into a new phase of my life in only 9 days. I will get married to a wonderful man I have loved for ~7 years. We have lived together for the past 3 years, and this helped allay my fears of entering into marriage for the second time in my life, at age 43. He proposed to me in 2015, and it took me a little time to get comfortable with trying out marriage again. Back when I was divorced in 2005, I really did not think I cared for the institution, and doubted I would marry again.

I was fairly happy just living with my fiance, and I really was not in a hurry. It is something I repeat to myself now, when I start to feel rushed in my life: there is no hurry. So many of us want to rush from where we are to our “next big thing.” But I have realized that when we allow life to unfold more naturally and organically, there is nothing lost. On the contrary, being present where we are, in this moment, is the only way we gain our lives back. When we drop the comparisons, stop worrying about what we have not yet accomplished, or wish we had done, we truly live. We stop squandering time on things that do not matter, and we mindfully focus in on those things that are most meaningful to us.

I have been practicing meditation and mindfulness off and on over the years, but starting studying more seriously in January of 2016. According to my Insight Timer App, I have meditated on 301 days since May 2016 and 216 consecutive days since February 5, 2017. What I can tell you is this: it is making an enormous difference in my life. In observing my mind, and calmly, compassionately and curiously being mindful of my emotions and my body, I am learning so much more about myself than I thought possible.

There are cycles to life. They are daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, sometimes hourly. When one copes with some form of attention deficit, those cycles can be rapid, and changing, and frustrating. Thought loops can arise with an almost obsessive quality to them. But when we learn to observe with curiosity, and realize that WE are not our THOUGHTS and that they come and go, this allows tremendous freedom. These thoughts are not dragons, and we do not have to cling to them. They are like clouds in the sky, moving along past us, some slow and others fast, some fluffy and light, others dark and foreboding.

Brain science tells us that we have a bias toward negativity, due to our “reptilian” brain’s need to keep us safe, and to be on the alert for threats in the environment. I find that comforting, when I am tempted to criticize my negative thinking as I observe it. No, it’s okay, it is your brain’s way of keeping you safe and being sure you can prepare to outrun the predators, and outwit your enemies in time. But fortunately our frontal cortex, the part of the brain that tempers and moderates this negativity, is creative and imaginative. It allows us to see possibilities where we may have seen trouble. It gives us the freedom to interpret the facts of our environment in different ways, and the ability to select responses that may serve longer-term interests, not just avert short-term danger.

In my current cycle of life, I still have fears about what the future holds. Meditation has helped me feel less fear, or at least not to worry about the fear, but to accept it as part of being a creature of this earth. It has allowed me to surrender more to my current and real experience rather than trying to escape it or deny it. I have been exploring and studying the ways in which I used food or alcohol as a way to escape discomfort, perhaps as a way to numb feelings I did not want to acknowledge.

Once I stopped buffering with these substances (thanks to Brooke Castillo, who introduced me to this concept) I really began to deepen my meditation and yoga practices. Then I was able to detect feelings in my body, and really examine the thoughts that were leading to those feelings. It is an ongoing journey for me. But as I understand and see my own cycles, patterns, and rhythms, I feel so much less afraid, so much less hurried. I am on a path that works for me, and the reason I know is that I am living it. I do not need to worry. I do not need to get somewhere by a certain time. My life is best served by being right here where I am, aware of what is around me and within me. It is good to honor those rhythms and cycles.

We enter into fall, and the weather is cool here in Minnesota. I have always enjoyed this change of season, this cooling of the heat and humidity, the precursor to the beautiful colors we enjoy now. I love the renewal and change of the seasons, which help remind us that there are cycles and seasons to slough off the ‘dead matter’ and there are cycles and seasons to grow new leaves and branches. The past year has felt like a sloughing off of so many burdens, so many mind-traps that kept me prisoner to a busy pace of life without stopping to question my priorities.

I expect this coming year to be a time of growth in my relationship, as we enter into a new phase of our lives. I look forward to the new adventures and the birth of our new family life together. It feels like a new beginning, and is another reason why I felt called to start this blog. I want press the “pause” button on the cycle every now and then, but that is not really possible. The cycle always continues to flow, but preserving some of the resonance and beauty of this moment, and of this transition, feels worthy of the attempt.