Wellness Wednesday – What is essential?

How often do you ask yourself the question in your life:  What is essential? Or a variation: what is essential for me right now? 

I just listened to the audio book (and am re-listening, because it resonated so much) that many of you minimalists out there probably already know, called “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. It is resonating with me on so many levels. essentialism.JPG

We can find a life of greater meaning, purpose and satisfaction with the mantra “less but better.” McKeown echoes many of the concepts of mindfulness as well as other wisdom I have discovered in other books like Deep Work by Cal Newport and The One Thing by Gary Keller. I find many applications here in how I am thinking about designing my new life and work for the future. The principle of essentialism is deeply connected to our personal wellness so I will focus on that aspect.

We face a plethora of choices every day about what to do and how to spend our time. There are many more options for what we can do in any given day and so many more decisions we are thus privileged (some would say forced) to make. Each hour, each minute, even in one breath, we choose. Do I meditate? Do I listen to a favorite podcast? Read a book? Finish that article I’m working on? Join that online webinar? Attend a yoga class?

And yet choose we must. Decisions are a part of life. We want to “have it all” and indeed many advertisers try to convince us that we can. But this is folly, because by attempting to do everything, we focus on nothing. It all becomes noise, and it is insignificant. It produces no real results, and we become frustrated at a lack of progress.

When we think we *have* to do it all, we are lying to ourselves. When we choose only what is essential to us, and pare down what is extraneous, we are rapidly able to better discern what is important. There are applications in terms of possessions, commitments, activities, memberships, or even new habits we are trying to implement. When we are spread too thin, we devote less attention to what is important. The problem is that many of us believe the illusion that everything is important. It is simply not true.

So to answer the question of what is essential for me, I would boil it down this way: sleep, play/creativity, rest, relationships and work. I was going to put work before play. But I realized I am not technically working (for money) now, and I am doing just fine.  Sleep, play and rest have been essential to my sabbatical. Since I worked and saved, I am able to rest and play now for a period. I know that reflects some privilege. But it also reflects choices I have made in my life about what is essential.

What is essential to you? How can you focus more deeply on that today? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

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Wellness Wednesday – pack your snacks

Hello All,

While I am traveling, I am reflecting on wellness practices that I use during my trips (anything lasting longer than about 3 days). In situations where you will be navigating time changes, or spending time on trains, where there is some schedule uncertainty, it may be wise to pack some snacks.

Pack your snacks
My packed snacks are on the bottom in Ziplocs. I also discovered the most excellent Sea Salt & Black Pepper cashews at the Tesco market here in Salisbury.

I am not opposed to some “trip fasting” when you don’t get to eat a meal at the usual time. We all carry more than adequate stores of fat on our bodies (at least most of the Western World) that we can survive many days (indeed weeks) without food.

However, given the uncertainty of meals and the fact that many train stations and  cafes are stocked with carbs and sugar or foods likely fried in trans fats, I like to have healthy alternatives stashed in my backpack. I like mixed nuts because they pack a lot of nutritional value in a fairly small space. I am not a perfect minimalist when it comes to travel, but they take very little space. A small handful of nuts can go a long way when you’ve missed lunch and are on a delayed train. My hubby notices that I can get a little “hangry” when it has been 5+ hours since I’ve had a good meal.

This is less urgent in recent years since I’ve typically fasted overnight for 12-14 hours,  and one day a week I fast for 16-18 hours by skipping breakfast on Saturdays when I attend morning yoga. My body has become sufficiently “keto adapted” that I do not typically have any problems with low blood sugar. However, it is the mental game sometimes, not the physical one, that can get us into trouble.

When traveling, your mind can be taxed to capacity, particularly if you are unfamiliar with an area. You have been calculating currency conversions in your head. Your train is late, so you missed the connection. Your wi-fi isn’t working on the train and you are running out of clean laundry.

Any of these circumstances are fairly benign. But added up, they can make you feel fatigued and cranky. So you do not need to add to the problem by yelling at your spouse or allowing your tension to boil over. Even if I never access my snacks on a typical travel day, just knowing they are there helps me avoid “famine brain,” which can stress me out unnecessarily.

Sometimes hunger is true and physical. It is best to wait for this physical signal in order to eat, if we do not want to add extra weight. Sometimes our hunger is actually more of a emotional issue. We may hunger for rest, or connection with our partners. Eating is the solution in these cases. However, for me, my primitive brain seems to do better when it does not have to work overtime to solve any scarcities.

Do you pack food for travel? What are your favorite trip snacks? 

cristy@meximinnesota.com

Together at Stonehenge
Photo of me with my hubby at Stonehenge on Sept 11, 2018. There is a fine cafe there with delicious steak pasties and cheese and onion pasties which we had for brunch before our tour.

Wellness Wednesday – cooling the brain

Happy Wednesday! It is time to focus on wellness and I shall return to a topic near and dear to my heart – sleep!

I started listening to a course recently on Insight Timer by Jennifer Piercy called “Your Guide to Deeper Sleep.” I really like how she describes sleep as a “cooling” of the inflammation in our body and brain. Getting good sleep is fundamental to healing and vitality in our lives. More research is being published all the time showing lack of sleep is connected to conditions such as diabetes.

I have struggled with insomnia in the past periodically. I am getting better in that regard but every now and then, typically in response to stress, I do struggle to get my zz’s. When that happens I know I need to cut back on my caffeine and/or cut back on my media consumption, which tends to churn the brain. I also find that I need to avoid any “weighty” topics of discussion just before bed.

Sleep amounts can vary naturally based on the season, and we typically expect to get slightly less during months where we have more sunlight. I have embraced the idea of early sleep on winter nights, snuggling with a book before bedtime and making sure my devices are powered down at least an hour before lights out. I actually have an alarm that goes off before bedtime to remind me to wind down, in case I am too absorbed in an activity to realize it is time.

sleeping puppies
Photo credit link

Yoga nidra is a practice I have recently discovered which can help me drop off into deeper sleep. I have used some guided meditations in order to let go of tension in the body and allow for mindful relaxation.

On the days after I sleep a nice, juicy 8-9 hours I notice that I have more consistent energy all day. I make decisions faster and with less agonizing. It also has an added benefit of allowing for greater weight loss as it reduces cortisol levels int he body. Who knew you could rest more AND take off extra weight?!?

The most important factor in getting restful sleep seems to be a good wind-down routine at night. Ariana Huffington explains her book The Sleep Revolution that she has a ritual of taking a bath or shower, escorting her devices outside the bedroom, and perhaps using lavender to create an atmosphere of relaxation.

Jennifer Piercy challenges the notion that when we nap, we compromise the quality of our sleep at night. Sleep has been domesticated in the service of “industrial life” and policed with an alarm clock (summary of quote). Dr. Sarah Mednick’s book Take a Nap! Change Your Life helps us understand that our state of being overtired can make us to wired to fall asleep effectively. So napping can be almost a “dress rehearsal” for sleep.

So, if you have the flexibility in your schedule to take a rest in the afternoon, consider a nap rather than fighting your post-lunch sleepiness. This multi-phasic sleep is actually quite natural, so embrace your body’s call to rest when you feel tired, especially between 1-3 p.m, when it could be especially nourishing.

When we treat sleep as a treasured event rather than a drag, we are more likely to enjoy the process and settle in a little deeper. We dream more when we sleep deeply, as it happens, and that can be an adventure as well.

What are your favorite sleep rituals? Do you make sure to get adequate rest every night? How often do you nap?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Wellness Wednesday – judgment vs acceptance

Once in a while I find myself tempted to tell other people how they should live. I get all “judgy” about what they should do, or what I would do in their situation. You don’t do that, do you?

Oh, who am I kidding? Many of us spend our lives judging other people. This is human, perhaps. I must extend myself compassion for the tendency to insert my opinion into other people’s business. One of my favorite wise teachers, Brené Brown, talks about how good it can feel to judge other people. It’s like a pig rolling in mud, she explains in one of her audio books. “Doesn’t it just feel so good?”

Our need to judge and criticize other people comes from our desire to mask some type of shame about the way we feel about ourselves. If we feel bad about our inability to keep our space clean at home, it is SO easy to become judgmental about some other person’s difficulty. We think: “Sheesh, how can they live like that? Do they have a hoarding disorder? Narcissism? (insert criticism here)” We may be bad, but at least we feel we are better than someone else.

While I feel embarrassed to admit how often I judge people, I want to come clean here for the sake of exploring this tendency and understanding what this judgment says about me.

When I first learned to meditate, I was astonished at the thoughts that seemed to flow rather continuously through my fevered brain. Now I react with more curiosity rather than with admonishment or shame. Thoughts appear. Then we react to them, or just observe them and let them go. It takes a lot of practice not to judge ourselves, or judge and evaluate our thoughts, but just to observe them with curiosity instead. I am far from perfect at this, and I’ve been practicing for 556 days in a row.

Judge Judy
TV personality Judge Judy – photo credit link

I realize that holding space for people, particularly those that you love, or those who can easily push your buttons, can be a sacred act of mindfulness as well. It is difficult to withhold judgment and just meet people where they are. It requires great compassion and self-awareness of our own internal critic and the ways in which we constantly compare ourselves to others.

In the case of family, friends or people we care about, sometimes we long to give advice to “help”. But often our best option is to listen, to care and to ask if we can be of service, rather than to offer unsolicited advice how to solve the problem.

If we simply tell people what to do, they often sense our judgment and discomfort. If our advice comes from a place of love and compassion, they may be able to hear it. If not, I think it is best for us to “clean up” our thoughts before launching into our opinions about the issue. Often we gossip to others about what these people should do instead of confronting the issue directly. That is not a good idea either.

Adults can behave however they wish, and we cannot control them. This is a radical idea for some of us. But we can only control our own thoughts and emotions. Trying to control other people is typically a recipe for disaster. While we can sometimes have a positive influence, typically we must lead by example rather than judging, condemning and shaming.

This is a lesson I write to remind myself. I have learned and re-learned it many times. When I focus on things I can control, my own actions and results (and generally the preceding thoughts and emotions), I have more peace, freedom and equanimity.

But oh, sometimes judgment is so very tempting…

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

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – move toward Joy

What brings you joy? 

This question can strike fear into the hearts of some people. If it has been some time since you experienced either spontaneous or cultivated joy, you may feel scarcity or grief.

If you have been living someone else’s idea of a “good life” but not your own, you probably feel a lack of joy. Or if things seem to be not going as planned in your life, and you feel a sense of numbness or sadness, joy seems far away. You may be like a poor kid looking through the windows of the candy store, knowing that joy exists (not in the form of candy, actually) but believing you cannot have it.

However, joy can be a daily practice as much as a feeling or an experience. I first learned about this from Martha Beck in her book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I pulled out her book from my shelves last summer and started cultivating joy more intentionally when I realized my work life was no longer bringing me joy. For years, it had provided me with growth, challenge and satisfaction.

Then it seemed the minor annoyances I was tolerating started to grow into major annoyances. The bureaucrazy (yes, this is Freudian slip, and also deliberate) felt more overwhelming. On balance, the joy did not outweigh the suffering anymore. I no longer felt I belonged in that place, in that position.

joy disney
Photo credit link – Disney’s Joy character

I started finding joy in doing art projects at home, meditating, writing, doing yoga, reading books, and listening to podcasts that fed my brain new ideas. I started taking more joy in my relationship, planning my wedding (which took place last September). Instead of working late, I left the office early, enjoyed evenings on the patio, which is quite lovely in Minnesota this time of year.

My focus on finding and appreciating joy daily led me to the place where I am now. I feel healthy and more balanced than I have in years. My sleep has improved considerably, with much less insomnia than before. My eating habits have improved, and I struggle less with fighting cravings for sugar and junk food. Those things had been a “buffer” to my feelings and did not allow for me to sit with the reality of the change my soul was calling forth.

Joy is always not in the big, bright moments of happiness. These can be a part of a joyful life. However, it is often in the small, quiet moments of gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us. Joy exists in moments of internal peace and in finding our center. Sometimes there is suffering embedded in joy, and it is an almost bittersweet experience. I would not trade it for any material thing.

What brings you joy? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Wellness Wednesday – Ask for help

Do you find it hard to ask for help? 

I confess that this is something I am still need to practice. I was taught very well to always be helpful. But I did not often ask for help. And it still takes me time to admit to myself when I need help, and to ask and receive it.

But asking for help can be a way to honor other people and allow them to connect with us in a meaningful way. Once I started thinking of it this way, it seemed that asking for help is actually like giving someone a gift. 

When we ask for help we indicate that we trust and respect another person. We express our belief in their capability. Most of the time, people who can help us are happy to help us. Think about the last time you responded to a request. Did you feel good about helping? Most of us do. (Unless the request is unreasonable or feels imposed, but that is another scenario).

help
Photo credit link

To me it can feel vulnerable to ask for help. I must admit I don’t have it all together, or I do not know something, or maybe I am not as organized as I want to be. But I am starting to get over this as I realize we all need help from time to time. There is no shame in it, and potentially we deepen the connections in our relationships.

Sometimes I worry that if I ask, a person will say no and reject the request. But surprisingly, if I ask sincerely and from a place of gratitude, more often than not, I receive help. It helps to be specific about the request and to always thank the giver.

I also learned that asking out loud is a better option than mentally projecting your requests to someone. This is truly OBVIOUS but I sometimes made the mistake of assuming others (like my husband) could read my mind and would know what I wanted. Nope. We use our words, and our out-loud voices for this. I realize not everyone here has grown up in passive-aggressive Minnesota where this tends not to be modeled.

Perhaps we want to stubbornly do things ourselves, and we feel a sense of failure if we ask for help. Perhaps we were taught that strong and capable people do not need help, or this is the message we absorbed in our youth. In any case, it is time let go of our fear and to embrace a new belief and a new practice!

Graciously asking for and receiving help is a practice that can enhance our relationships and allow us to focus on our strengths. If you are new to it, take it in stages, and start small. You may be surprised at what you discover and how much more capable you feel by inviting your community to be part of your success.

Next time you are struggling, know you are not alone. Use it as an invitation to ask a friend or loved one for what you need or want. Be brave, and be thankful. We do not have to go it alone.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – your priority

What are your priorities? 

I asked myself this during the late afternoon when I noticed *hours* had slipped by this afternoon while I was working, and it was nearly past the time I usually leave. I suddenly realized it was a gorgeous Minnesota day, about 80F without humidity.

Immediately I realized I should not be lingering at work, and that my husband and I had the opportunity to spend time out on a lovely patio somewhere in the neighborhood. But this realization and choice came about when I considered my priorities, or rather my priority for that moment.

While I know work is important, my more important priority is my relationship with my husband. Other relationships are important too, and I reminded myself the other day to schedule some time with friends I have not yet seen this summer. We plan to see a play and spend time together next week.

Willy, my cat, just gave me a LOUD MEOW to indicate that HE is a priority too, and he did not appreciate my husband and I lingering over live music on the patio tonight. Okay buddy, point taken.

Relationships are an important priority in our lives. Several recent studies have touted the benefits of social relationships on one’s overall health status. This does not mean we are all good at prioritizing our relationships, however. I have struggled in the past with making time to nurture my friendships, sometimes getting wrapped up in personal projects or professional goals, and neglecting to reach out as often as I would like.

Lions Tavern
Hot air balloons outside on Tuesday night while hubby and I listened to live music on the patio of Lion’s Tavern.

I start feeling “out of balance” when I do not get enough hubby time, or kitty time or time with good friends that make me laugh. There is something about spending time with people who love you, people you care about, and those who bring meaning to your life.

And if you feel lonely? Maybe you live far from friends, or do not have family in your area. Please reach out to someone to connect. Make an effort to form relationships that sustain you. If making new friends is difficult for you, realize that it can be difficult for all of us as adults. You are not alone in feeling like this.

But attempts to connect with others is almost always worth it. We may fear rejection, or believe others do not have much in common with us. But I believe it is a bigger risk NOT to connect, and not to allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable to build connection. Sure, they may reject us. But that is only a problem if we make it mean something about us. I like to think when people reject me, they don’t know what they are missing. 😉

It can be as easy as asking someone about themselves, and listening well. Or greeting someone with a smile and a friendly word can bring about a moment of connection, making us (and them) feel less alone, to feel seen and appreciated.

Human beings evolved as a social species. But we can feel lonely in our relationships sometimes, or we can feel lonely on our own. As an introvert, I enjoy being alone and seldom feel lonely. But even I have my limits in terms of “me time.” There is no substitute for being around people who accept me as I am. What a great gift. Let us not forget to be grateful for those kindred spirits when we find them, and to nurture and prioritize our relationships. 

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com