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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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

 

 

Drama vs math – on financial clarity

On Tuesday I was set to do my semi-monthly financial accounting. I did not want to do it, and I could feel myself procrastinating and avoiding it as much as possible. So I practiced something I have learned to help me figure out my thoughts when I am having trouble moving forward – a thought download in my journal.

Our thoughts create our emotions, our emotions drive our actions (or behavior), and our actions are what determine our results. I needed to figure out which thoughts were causing my resistance/discomfort which was driving my avoidance. What I determined that I was creating drama about what the numbers would mean, ahead of the clarity of even knowing them. In the end, my bank balances, investments and credit balances are just math.

I was afraid I would beat myself up for not saving enough, or feel a sense of scarcity as we get to the end of my “runway” as far as getting more income rolling by this point. But then I realized that I am committed to this journey, and while things may be tight for a while, I have a lot of options to consider.

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Even before I got the numbers down on paper, I decided to think different thoughts, like: what a blessing it was to have saved up the money to have time off between my job and my new venture. I can also think: I am resilient and always figure out what I need to do next. These thoughts are true, and felt better than the scarcity thoughts I had manufactured.

Once I got the numbers down on paper, and figured out where things stood, I felt so much better. Nothing is worse that feeling of confusion or fogginess about reality, and not being able to make good decisions as a result. I realized, through a bit of self-coaching and compassion toward myself, I could choose not to get caught up in story or the drama my mind was creating.

Now that I am clear on where things stand, I can make better decisions going forward. Looking at the math, and evaluating the situation based on a more generative and abundant mindset was key to getting that task done. I am grateful that I have learned tools for emotional management that will serve me well going forward.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

Gathering energy for big projects

Lately I have had a stronger inclination to blog less often and work on a bigger project. I hesitate to write this here, because it feels a little raw and personal, but I have book aspirations. Some other part of me says, “don’t we all?” This community will understand, surely.

Ever since talking with a potential client about ghost-writing a book he wanted to work on, I started questioning what direction my writing will take me. I feel so fortunate to have worked for three different clients on a few writing and research projects in the past month.

succeed because I am crazy
Art found in one of our AirBnB‘s in Bemidji.

I can now claim an identity as a “professional writer” in getting paid to actually do this thing I love. It felt good to know that this daily blog practice has led to a portfolio of writing samples, several of which may have been instrumental to landing the contracts.

And now I find myself with stirrings toward working on a book idea. Titles come to me sometimes while I allow for quiet reflection. I turn stories around in my head to figure out how they might resonate, if I can find something of value in them. I think I may owe it to myself to figure out whether I can write something bigger and more substantial.

When I considered the idea of working for a client for a fairly low dollar figure to write his book, my response was: my time would be more valuable working on my own book! Then I thought: why not? I do have to earn some income, and I hope to keep a pipeline of projects going. But why not set aside the time, blog a little less often, and really invest in that bigger project?

Big projects feel daunting to me. I remember how hard it was to complete my master’s thesis, and that was only 40 pages long. Something deep within me beckons me to work on it though, to set aside regular time to turn my attention there.

I feel I have been distracting myself with little things, afraid of getting lost in one big project. At the same time, some “gear” clicked into place when I heard myself ponder the question, and I felt excited by the idea. So I have not totally committed yet, but I am imagining ways I could make it happen. I am considering how to block off daily and weekly time chunks for tapping that inner well and seeing what comes of it.

Do I have the endurance for that longer game? We will see. It seems a pity not to make the attempt.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

You Must Be Dreaming

The title of today’s blog is the chapter title from the book Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love your Life by Lauren Handel Zander. As some of you know, I have embarked on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group, and I am going to be brave and share some of the “resistance” that is coming up for me right now.

Maybe you will have some advice for me. I am not sure. Maybe writing about my resistance to dreaming will help me get through the obstacles that my mind is constructing against the goal.

My first assignment was quite lengthy, a short bio about myself (which was not short, I actually wrote 12 pages) and a chance to dream about 12 areas in my life. This included: self, body, love, spirituality, career, money, time, home, family, friends, fun & adventure and community & contribution.

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After writing our dreams for these areas I needed to rate each area and then write out the current reality and to explain why we gave ourselves the current rating. Then I was asked to explain why I have not been able to realize the dream in that area of life so far.

This is not “easy” homework! I enjoyed writing the biography. That was fun, and I have been practicing my writing skills, so though it was quite a trip down memory lane, it felt good. Telling the story of our lives can be very revealing for a coach or therapist. Since we are the authors of our own lives, I am sure that someone reading can learn a lot about what we think about ourselves from reading the stories we tell.

The dreaming part was HARD for me! I started to do it and realized that I am pretty happy with my life overall, and that dreaming seemed indulgent. Shouldn’t I just be grateful for having more abundance in my life than most people in the world? Is it really okay to want more for myself?

I started the assignment, and then when back and read the areas the next day and realized those “dreams” I had written down did not really inspire me. It was much easier to write about where I am currently than it was to risk writing down my dreams. So I re-did that part of the homework a few days later and tried to dream bigger.

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I believe that writing down our dreams, really imagining vividly what they look like, sound like, taste like and feel like can be a key to achieving them. Sometimes, as Martha Beck would say, it can be painful to dream. If it has been some time since we actively pursued our dream, we may feel sad or regretful about giving up on a dream.

Or I am finding that I  absorbed some lessons about dreaming that include: “Sometimes you can’t have what you want. You should be happy with what you have. Not everyone can have their dream. Some of us have to work for a living.”

During my first session, my coach picked one of my lower-rated areas and asked me to read my dream out loud. I did. It sounded lame. She asked if that really inspires me. No, not much. So my homework for the session (we meet every 2 weeks) is to re-write that dream for what I envision one year from now. It is supposed to give me goosebumps.

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Since the topic is money, she asked me to include specific numbers. I need to also write where I am now, including specific numbers as well. I will talk with my husband about this topic as well, and align on responsibilities about money stuff.

Simple, right?

I wish!

The resistance that comes up for me is all about: shouldn’t I be working the career goal first? What if I work out a money dream and the career aspiration doesn’t follow? Since I make good money now, what if I paint myself into a corner regarding goals and then I don’t make the choices I want in my career? And if buying a home is in the one year goal, what if we do that, and then things don’t work out with my career change goal, and then we have a harder road in the future? What if? What if? What if?

See where my brain goes? Yikes. That’s what dreaming does for me.

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All those areas of resistance and fear come up. But I am going to stay with it. I am going to write out my money dream for a year out, and then respectfully listen but then ignore those voices for a bit. At least until I finish my homework.

Do you dream regularly? Do you write down your dreams for the future? Do they excite you? What gets in the way of dreaming up what your heart desires? I would love to hear what types of strategies you use to get past any resistance you may have to dreaming.

 

 

Sweeping mental clutter

I am amazed sometimes when I go quiet and meditate at the thoughts and mental chatter that run through my head. It reminds me that while I aim to clear physical clutter in my life to help me with less external distractions, the mental clutter is also worth sweeping out.

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We all have thoughts and beliefs that run though our minds like old tapes, playing the stories we learned over time. They are a product of what we learned as young people, explicitly or implicitly by what we observed around us. Many of us do not question these thoughts and beliefs. They become part of us, and influence how we live our lives.

But I have been questioning my thoughts and beliefs much more regularly these days. Why is it we believe “there is never enough time” to do the things we love to do? Is that really true? What if that is a convenient excuse for not taking the risks in our lives that would allow us to live more fully in our joy?

What if we turned those thoughts around or tried on different thoughts than the worn-out ideas that make us feel tired and defeated? One of the amazing things about meditation practice is to realize that we have much more choice over our thoughts than I had realized was possible.

Our thoughts drive our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions and therefore determine our results. When we realize we are not our thoughts, but can decide consciously whether to think certain thoughts, we take back control of our lives. We realize our circumstances do not determine our reality. It is our thoughts about those circumstances that have substantially more power.

Human beings are wired for story, as Brene Brown tells us. We strive to make sense of the world so our minds develop stories to explain and interpret circumstances. We all do this, and it is an adaptive phenomenon for human evolution. But sometimes these stories do not give us a complete picture, and need revision. The challenge is that we have told ourselves these stories for so long, they seem like truth.

It is worthwhile to examine personal narratives and long-held beliefs that no longer serve us. I write a daily journal in which I often do a “thought download” when I feel agitated about something, since I realize that is usually an indicator that I am “spinning” thoughts that do not serve me. That is often enough for me to become conscious of some thought causing pain and to question that thought.

Byron Katie teaches a practice of inquiry, in which you question a thought or belief and ask yourself 4 questions:

Is it true? 

Can I absolutely know that it is true? 

How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?

Who would I be without the thought? 

Then she encourages one to try some “turnarounds” of the thought if we realize we cannot absolutely know that thought it true, or we realize it causes us suffering. This is worth practicing if you suspect some of your thoughts may need sweeping out or cleaning up.

What is beautiful about this practice and these realizations is that we begin to understand that changing our thoughts is easier than changing our circumstances. We do not have to find happiness and contentment “out there” somewhere. It is within our grasp, and can be realized inside of ourselves.

Also, when we change our thoughts, and therefore our feelings, we act and behave differently. We act with more love and generosity, and we begin to attract these qualities around us as well. We begin to see that grasping onto things makes us close down, while opening and sharing allow us to tap a well of resilience within us.

As you consider sweeping out the clutter of your physical life, take some time also to sweep the clutter that may be residing in your mind. See how much benefit this can have in your relationships and in living a more joyful life. I know you will not be disappointed.