Journaling: Try it – maybe you’ll like it.

Daily Mindfulness Gratitude

There are lots of things research is showing are useful to our mental well-being, such as, journaling, gratitude, meditation, exercise, etc.   But many of us think I don’t have time for one more thing!  Or, perhaps we just don’t know how to integrate these practices into our daily lives.  This week I’d like to spend some time on one of these important skills, journaling, and explain why it is important.   In addition, I’ll provide some tips for integrating it into your life, including how I made it work in my own life.

I hear the collective groan.  Some of you are thinking “Journaling?  What am I a 13 year old girl?” And some of you are thinking, “I’ve tried it, but I never stick with it!  I give up.”  But wait!  First, journaling is different than a diary.  We aren’t just documenting our life.  In a journal we may investigate reactions or emotions to happenings, but it’s also a place for inspiration and creativity; a place to keep track of your good ideas, or whatever you want to write about, dreams, goals, etc.  Many of the reasons research shows journaling is good for us, explains why it’s popular among teenage girls and it also explains why this practice is good for everyone!  Here are just a few of the reasons journaling is a positive habit.Keep calm and write something

  1. Writing helps us evaluate our reactions and thoughts and emotions.  This is good because it helps us determine where our habits lie – perhaps habits we’d rather not keep.  It helps us separate truth from fiction in our mind and our world.  We will also often write things that are surprising to us, it helps to sift out our real feelings.
  2. Writing apparently uses a different part of the brain than just thinking, which is why different thoughts will come out.
  3. Journaling diminishes symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other health conditions.  It also strengthens the immune system

There are many ways to journal.  I’ve listed a few here, but no matter how you do it, this is not writing for the public.  Don’t worry about grammar, just write.

  1. You can just open up the journal and write, kind of spit out what you’ve been thinking about and see what else comes out.  It can actually be really good to set a timer for 6-10 minutes and just keep writing.  You’ll be surprised at what comes out.
  2. Reflect on events, books, or inspirations that have deeply impacted you and why.
  3. Reflect on your goals, what you hope to achieve, long term goals.
  4. Reflect on moments of joy, memorable meals or meetings, places you’ve visited.
  5. Perhaps you choose to keep a journal about some specific activity, for example, many people journal after they meditate.

Another reason you should journal is it can help you knock out the need to practice gratitude at the same time.  Woohoo – 2 for 1!  Taking the time to regularly write down the things we are grateful for has been shown to have many benefits, including “Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; higher levels of positive emotions; more joy, optimism, and happiness; acting with more generosity and compassion; and feeling less lonely and isolated.” As reported by the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude. Who doesn’t want those benefits?  And really, you can get them by just writing down three things you are grateful for every day!

My Bullet Journals
My Bullet Journals

I’m going to admit.  Personally I’ve struggled with journaling.  For so many years I knew it was important, and would start and make it a week then 2 months later I’d try again with the same results.  But finally I found a system that works for me.  It may not work for everyone, but here is what works for me.  I found that I had 4-5 little notebooks around at all times.  One for journaling; another for notes from a class; another for notes for work; you get my drift.  This just kept going as I gave each area of my life its own notebook.  Well one day I was on a plane flying back from Boston and I got to chatting with the guy next to me.  That flight from Boston to Denver flew by as we talked the whole time!  And you won’t believe it, but eventually we got around to journaling – perhaps he saw that I kept taking out a different notebook to write down notes as we talked.  Anyway, he introduced me to the Bullet Journal.  I love it.  This one book is my journal, daily and monthly to-do list, the place for all notes from all meetings, all research, all reading, etc.  I just use my own notebooks, I don’t order any special books. If you have a system that works for you – keep using it!  But if you are looking for a system, check out this link.  The video demonstrates how to get started.  Why has this allowed me to journal more?  I don’t know, but something about having one place to write everything has been beneficial.  I always have that one notebook with me.

If you’ve been able to maintain a regular journal, please post on what has worked for you.

Here are two other links that talk about the practice of journaling:

  • http://www.mytherapyjournal.com/whyjournal/
  • http://www.fastcompany.com/3041487/body-week/8-tips-to-more-effective-journaling-for-health
  • http://tinybuddha.com/blog/10-journaling-tips-to-help-you-heal-grow-and-thrive/

Silent Retreat Musings

Inspiration retreats

I am so grateful to have taken the time for a silent retreat recently.  It’s hard to take that time away from my marriage, but I think and hope it makes me a better partner in the long run.  It’s something that is mandatory for my ongoing certification to teach Mindfulness, and yet I find it’s actually more mandatory for me personally, for my balance.  Just like most of us, I’d like to believe I can live a balanced life.  To me balanced means not spending too much time on technology, responding instead of reacting, making kindness a priority, taking care of myself, and being present with family and friends.  But, I find even with my daily meditation and what I teach, the pace of life creeps in.  Before I know it, I’m looking at Facebook, more than I want to do so, or not paying close enough attention to my thoughts and feelings, allowing thoughts that are not useful to take over my story lines.  This time away from technology, just paying attention to what is really happening in my body and mind for those days is crucial to making sure I keep up-to-date with myself and the habits I’m creating.  It helps me to notice when habits are creeping in that aren’t really beneficial.  If I don’t take the time to notice them, I can’t do anything about them.

View upon arrival
View upon arrival

When people find out I do this, some ask questions with interest and curiosity, but most kind of stare uncomprehending.  They just say things like, “Oh, I could never do that!”  “Silent?”  “But, what do you do?” So based, on so many questions, I thought I’d post a bit about what this is like, for those that are interested or can’t even imagine.  Each retreat is different for me and each retreat is different for each person, but this will give a snapshot of what it was like this time for me.

This was my first solo silent retreat, meaning my first retreat where a retreat center didn’t schedule my days for me; where I wasn’t just moving in the same quiet tide of other meditators from sitting to walking to eating.  This retreat was 5 nights, including the afternoon before and morning after, and I rented a small apartment in the country about 2 hours from home.  Yes, I missed my husband, but no I wasn’t ready to return.  I wanted more quiet, more time to cement these mindful moments into my daily life.

For those that are interested, following is the schedule I followed, my goals for the retreat; and what I learned on the retreat.

Schedule/Organization: I wondered, will I be able to follow the schedule?  I actually found it quite easy.  I don't think this makes me super committed, the day is long and silent if I don’t continue to meditate!  Times are approximate, I generally stayed within 1/2 hour, sometimes I meditated longer than what is listed.  I listed meditations as minimum 30 minutes, but most were between 30 - 45 minutes.  This isn't THE RIGHT schedule.  This was my schedule, someone else's may vary.

Waking 6:15 AM  - I like trying to meditate before or after the sunrise, not during!

Sunrise
Sunrise.
  • Self-care
  • Stretch
  • 7 – 7:45 am Sitting meditation.

Morning Starting at 8 AM

  • Make and eat breakfast, clean up kitchen
  • Self-Care
  • 9 – 9:30 am Sitting meditation
  • 9:30 – 10:00 am Walking meditation
  • 10 – 10:30 am Sitting meditation
  • 10:30 - 11 am Yoga/Mindful movement
  • 11 am – 12 pm Walk outside

Afternoon 12 PM

  • Make and eat lunch, clean up Kitchen
  • 1 pm Study/ Read
  • 2  – 2:30 pm Sitting meditation
  • 2:30 – 2:50 pm Walking meditation
  • 3 – 3:30 pm Sitting meditation
  • 3:30 – 4 pm Walking meditation
  • 4 – 5 pm Yoga/Stretches/Mindful Movement

Evening 5 PM

  • Make and eat dinner, clean up kitchen
  • 6-6:30 pm Sitting Meditation
  • 6:30 -7:30 pm Listen to teaching audio
  • 7:30 – 7:50 pm Walking meditation
  • 7:50 – 8: 30 pm Sitting meditation
  • 8:30 - 9:30 pm Read/study
  • 9:30 pm Prepare for bed and sleep

Goals:

Mindfulness Goals: To be doing whatever I was doing in the moment; eating, preparing food, washing my face, making tea, doing yoga, etc. No radio, no tv, no internet, no distraction from the monkey house I call my own mind.

Meditation Goals: To continue to increase my concentration and to strengthen the collaboration of insight and concentration within the meditation.

What did I learn?

Tree
This was one of the many meditation teachers demonstrating how to stay strong and grounded, with great wind all around trying to get it to bend.
  1. Moments of peace and stillness are often near moments of suffering.
  2. The monkeys do settle down, but they are mischievous and determined to find distractions, one must be ever alert.
  3. Thoughts of doubt, restlessness, worry, lethargy all fade when they are called out on the table for what they are.
  4. At every meal, with nothing to distract it my stomach would tell me when I was full.  It was amazing!  It’s funny how that never happens in the real world!
  5. If you haven’t experienced the pure joy of sitting at a table in a quiet room with a grapefruit for your snack and peeling it, while taking in the energizing smell and the fresh pop in your mouth – well you are missing out!
  6. If you question, how you are meditating, just sit yourself near a large tree in a breeze and study that tree.  It will be happy to show you how to remain calm and centered and connected to this spot, this present moment, no matter what craziness is going on around you.

To be fair, I’ve loved all my silent retreats.  I sink right into the quiet.  There is normally a day in the middle I get restless, but never tired of the quiet.  I've seen some people struggle more, usually for just a day or so of the retreat.  In my first retreat on the first night before we all went silent, everyone was introducing themselves and one guy asked who would know if he went crazy from the silence.  The teachers smiled and assured him his roommate could let them know.  He never went crazy.  In fact, at the end when we debriefed, he commented that he was surprised how much he'd like it.  Never underestimate your own need for silence.  You may just not know about it because of the stimulation always around you.  Stimulation to which you've allowed yourself to become accustomed.

I can't encourage everyone enough to learn what time they need for themselves.  Time away from technology and input.  Time to just learn about yourself, so you can trust yourself moving forward.

The Self-Compassion and Wisdom Combo

Self Compassion

I’ve come to realize that just asking people to be kind to themselves doesn’t work, because that is not enough information.  Some want to believe they are being kind to themselves by giving in.  Giving into the situation, the desire, the emotion, etc.  The key is being kind to ourselves with wisdom.  Today I'm going to go into this concept in a little more detail.  When making decisions in our lives, having a combination of kindness and wisdom can help us make decisions that are positive for both ourself and those around us.

It is very important to understand that this culture of self-compassion comes with the need for wisdom.   Our goal isn’t to wander through life just forgiving everything we do if those things are mean or not skillful.  It’s to be able to continuously learn from our acts, our emotions, our thoughts and continue to grow to use these things with more wisdom and skill.  Without the wisdom we aren’t looking for the patterns; or we just continue on in denial, or doing harmful things to ourselves or others.

Let's look at an example of what I mean.  For example, we've all had those days when we are extra tired.  There are a lot of reasons this might be happening.

  • It could be you've been working extra hard and really are physically or mentally exhausted.  Or you have a known condition that causes this exhaustion.
  • Perhaps you haven't been sleeping; or you haven't been eating food that nourishes you; or you've been stuck behind your desk and you haven't been moving enough.
  • Then there are the times when we are lethargic because we are in avoidance mode.  Example: If I just sit here and stare at the tv, I can ignore the conversation I'm putting off or the project I'm supposed to be working on that I don't want to do.
  • Or maybe, we've let ourselves get into a circle of worry about something that we can't do anything about.  That is exhausting, because there is no fix, no end, and unfortunately, every time we allow our mind to go down the worry track, we are training ourselves to worry, so the worry tends to perpetuate itself.

There are many other reasons why we could be tired, let's face it life can be exhausting.  But I'll let you in on a secret.  People who seem to keep moving and get things done have these times of

Tired cat
That feeling when you are so tired you could just fall down anywhere! Picture from morguefile and ArielleJay.

being tired also.  But by using their wisdom, they don't just give into it without asking some questions.  They stop for a moment to think, "I'm more tired than usual.  What's going on?  Is there a reason I should be tired?  If so, maybe I give myself a break tonight to sit and read or watch an hour of tv, or maybe I just go to bed early."  Does your mind need some downtime or does your body need some downtime?

If they haven't been working so hard that they should be tired, they think, "Is there something going on with my health? How have I been sleeping? How have I been eating?"  Nothing fixes itself.  If we aren't sleeping well and we get in the habit of just vegging every night, we aren't being kind to ourself because that cycle will continue and just keep getting worse instead of better. Taking steps to figure out what is off with our health would be a critical piece of being kind to ourselves in the long run here.

If life has been normal, no craziness above and beyond the normal, and you've been sleeping, eating healthy, and getting some exercise in, then the next question they ask is, "Am I avoiding or resisting a next step?  Ignoring something that needs attention?"  This is often my ah-ha moment.  I might be avoiding a conversation with a client or a loved one; or I might be resisting the next step in a project I'm working on, because it's something that will be hard for me or that needs a set block of time.  When I'm in avoidance mode, I feel like I'm being dragged down by what I don't want to do - otherwise known as feeling tired or lethargic.  Once I know what I'm resisting, then the next step for being kind to myself is to act and move past that resistance. I tell myself, "Just get it done Christine."  In this case, if I continue "as is" I just practice resistance, instead of practicing the effort it takes to stretch into an area of discomfort so I can move forward.

As, you can see through this demonstration, the self-compassionate part isn't to curl up under the covers and just be.  That might be the compassionate thing to do for one night when we really have pushed ourselves too far, but the compassionate thing to do really is to take some time to sit with yourself non-judgmentally and say, "OK Me - What's going on?"  And even more importantly to listen to what yourself, especially your body, has to say.  The people you think always have it together face discomfort, and doubt, and fear, they have just learned that the more they take that long step into a zone of discomfort, the faster they move beyond it and the more they personally grow.

Through this questioning we begin to take responsibility for our actions and next steps.  We also learn to recognize sooner when through our actions we aren't practicing self compassion; when our actions might feel good now, but  they are not good for us in the long run.

Can you think of something that feels good now, but in the not so distant future there's regret?  For me that moment comes quickly when I eat sugar and then within an hour my gut is grumpy and my head is spinning.  Or perhaps you can share with the group, a time you were in lethargic avoidance mode and you realized what you were avoiding?  I had a lot of practice recognizing this feeling when I was working on my dissertation.

The Mindful Nation UK Report

News Research

This week is an exciting week in the world of Mindfulness, Mindful Nation UK came out with their Mindfulness Initiative report, and it was presented in front of the Parliament in Britain.  This week in my blogpost, I just want to introduce this report and some of the conversation going on right now about Mindfulness. I’d like to introduce you to the research a bit more through my blog posts.  I know I have fellow geeks out there that want the proof!

The Mindful Nation Initiative, is an initiative by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group in Britain to determine if Mindfulness can help support mental healthcare in a more holistic way and at the same time support education, the workplace and the criminal justice system, within Great Britain.  Mindfulness classes are actively offered to the Parliament and they’ve had 115 parliamentarians and 80 of their staff attend.  Their key recommendations are on page 7-8 of the report.  These recommendations encourage the country to test Mindfulness programs in healthcare, education, the workplace, and the criminal justice system.

To match the timing of the report release, Jon Kabat-Zinn published an article in The Guardian about Mindfulness and the dangers of it getting too popular.  Mindfulness has huge health potential – but McMindfulness is no panacea.   There is a concern that with widespread popularity Mindfulness will be watered down and ineffective.  Really?  Because even more people hesitating before they think; learning to recognize their emotions and determine what appropriate responses are to these emotions; and working to find more calm in their life in place of anxiety and hate – that isn’t a good thing?  Please note, to be fair, I admit to a bias on the side of calm and less stress.

Everywhere we look we can find opinions, that Mindfulness is either great, or not great.   It's important to note that while mindfulness is simple, it's not easy.  It is a practice, not a miracle.  The varied reports falls in line, with anything or anyone that has become popular in the past and involves a change of perception.  This is one reason I like this new report and some of the other initiatives happening.  The Mindfulness community is trying hard to really focus on the research and build on the research to determine if Mindfulness is actually helping.

Opinion aside, the recent research shows a few things that I’ll point out from the report, which can be found here.

  • Mindfulness in healthcare has been studied since it first started being used in the late 1970’s. “The strongest evidence for Mindfulness-based Interventions (MBIs) …in healthcare… is in the
    Stress
    The common ground for most people? Stress. Picture by dawnwillow at morguefile.com

    prevention of recurrent depression.” p. 19 “A meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials for people who were currently well and who had a history of three or more episodes of depression found that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) reduced the risk of relapse by almost half ( 43%) in comparison to control groups.” p. 20

  • The evidence around Mindfulness use in Education is strong in many areas, but suffice it to say “There is promising evidence that mindfulness training has been shown to enhance executive control…the management of cognitive processes such as memory, problem solving, reasoning and planning… in children and adolescents.” p. 30 The United States is doing better in this area of bringing mindfulness to schools.
  • The research from the studies surrounding mindfulness in the workplace need to continue, but “A number of randomized controlled trials of MBIs have found positive effects on burnout, well being and stress. Mindfulness can assist with focus and a range of cognitive skills.  Studies have shown that those using mindfulness report lower levels of stress during multi-tasking tests and are able to concentrate longer without their attention being diverted.” p. 41
  • The research around Mindfulness in the criminal justice system needs to be expanded, but the findings from small studies are showing improvement in self-discipline and reductions in aggression and substance abuse. In addition, “ nearly half the prison population have depression or anxiety, and 25% have both… given the impact of MBCT on preventing recurrent depression, it has considerable potential as an approach for offenders.” p. 53-54  And this report doesn’t even talk about the stress facing the providers in our criminal justice system.

Tell me again, why we would be so stubborn as to ignore the possibilities just because it was “popular”?

Here in America, can you imagine all members of the house and congress getting together to both practice and encourage practices that support the mental health of our nation?  To be fair, it has begun.  Congressman Tim Ryan out of Ohio has been practicing.  He’s written a book called A Mindful Nation.  He also has a nonprofit organization called Mindful Nation.  But imagine what could be if all of congress joined him?  Even after shootings and other traumas, our parties still insist on fighting as if they are mortal enemies, instead of working together to create a better America?  No country is perfect, but I’m encouraged by this forward step in Britain.

(October, 2015) The Mindfulness Initiative. Mindful Nation UK.  Found at http://themindfulnessinitiative.org.uk/images/reports/Mindfulness-APPG-Report_Mindful-Nation-UK_Oct2015.pdf.

Finding Our Natural Directional Tools

Daily Mindfulness Everyday Mindfulness Inspiration
Picture of a Cairn
Cairn's are common trail markers in areas without trees. Picture from mettem at MorgueFiles.com.

Life is not always easy.  It can throw us curve balls and keep us on our toes.  I find many people float through with no real sense of having control over their direction.  I recognize this, because it was my M.O. for quite a long time.

As you know a couple weeks ago, we were lucky enough to head out for some backpacking.  As we walked, one foot in front of the other I realized there was a lesson here for life.

Picture of tree trail marking.
This is a common trail marker used in forested areas. Picture copyright of Christine Lustik. Taken in the Anaconda Pintler wilderness.

In backpacking there is usually a trail, and in many cases the trail is pretty easy to follow.  When one is on national and state forest land you have wonderful organizations, like our local Montana Conservation Corps people that maintain the trails.  But you have to be aware of a few things.  Often there are other trails intersecting and you have to watch for the signs or you’ll find yourself headed in a different direction, hopefully sooner rather than later.  It’s common to see markings on trees and cairns telling us we are doing well.  These are forms of trail signage. But sometimes we find ourselves doing trails that are not well traveled and it’s easy to lose the trail.  In these circumstances, we use our compass, maps, GPS, and knowledge of these tools to find the trail and keep going in the right direction.  When we hiked the length of the Wyoming range it was common for the trail to just disappear and we’d stop to assess the situation and use our tools.

Easy trail
There are easy to follow trails that are also a pleasure to walk. Not to many tripping opportunities, easy walking. Picture copyright of Christine Lustik.

Similar things happen in life.  Sometimes we are following well marked trails.  For example, getting through school we follow the crowds and we have teachers and advisers keeping us on track.  But throughout life there are lots of ways we can lose ourselves and our direction, even in situations that seem well marked!  I would argue this is one of the main reasons to practice Mindfulness.  When born we are provided with a set of natural tools that are always with us and we can use them to keep us moving in the right direction.  These tools for life include our body, breath, thoughts, emotions, and feelings.  These tools tell us when we are headed in the right or wrong direction, if we practice paying attention to them.

Many of us have been at a point in life when we purposefully did not listen to these warning signs telling us danger, wrong road, TURN AROUND!  These tend to be the times we know – we just don’t want to hear it, or aren’t ready to hear it, for whatever reason.  BUT, the breath was trying to tell us something was wrong.  It was probably shallow and fast, possibly a little more focused on the inhale.  The body was also warning us with signs such as, increased heart-rate, headaches, tightening in our throat or chest, inability to sleep, or consternation in our digestive system and abdomen.

Rock Trail
Then there are trails like this. They aren't as easy to follow and they aren't even easy to be on, they are naturally hard and cause some pain - But, you can see the trail gets easier! Picture copyright of Christine Lustik.

It’s possible our feelings and sensations were on high alert, there’s a buzzing or tingling we may feel in the head or limbs when we are excited or anxious; in various places in our body we might feel tightness, discomfort, even sharp pains.  Our emotions are likely trying to get our attention and fluctuating between worry, discomfort, and anxiety.  Even if we consciously override or ignore those feelings and focus on the supposed happiness or calm we are getting from the activity that is heading us down the wrong path, we can still feel the general sense of dis-ease.

How are you using the natural tools we are given to help assure you are on the right path?  My need for these tools is no longer to keep me out of the unhealthy and dangerous activities of a college student; but I still use these tools throughout every day life to tell me things like:  Is this project really the direction that fits my goals?  Is this how my time is best spent? How can I communicate in the most skillful way with this person?  How can I take care of my health in the best way today that also meets my food and time needs?  Pretty much any dilemma I face, my body and breath can help me with.

I invite you to practice listening to your natural directional tools and trusting them.  You can begin by gently closing your eyes right now and just following your breath in and out 3 times with curiosity.  Practice listening to it.  Does it have anything to share?

Watching the Mind Settle

Daily Mindfulness Inspiration Thoughts

This past weekend my husband and I went on a much anticipated short backpacking trip; only 18 miles in three days, in the Anaconda Pintler mountains. It was a wonderful trip filled with calm, high mountain lakes, silent companionship, waterfalls, and long walks through evergreen and deciduous forests.  Nature has a way of teaching us lessons that apply to our everyday life.  I came away from this trip reminded of some lessons it has taught me over and over again, but that I somehow forget in-between trips.  But, the most important thing nature did for me on this trip was give me a personal viewing into the workings of my mind.  It can be hard for us to nonjudgmentally settle enough to really just watch what is going on in the mind.  Even when doing a Mindfulness of Thought meditation practice, it’s easy to get caught up in the judgement of thought.  But here I will tell you the story of my mind on the first day of our trip. A mind that was lulled by the combination of nature and walking meditation.  It was fascinating.

Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake made a perfect lunch, fly fishing spot.

One might think otherwise, but swinging that pack around and up onto my back felt good.  It felt familiar and comfortable.  We checked in at the trailhead and began putting one foot in front of the other headed down the trail.  I’d read the info on the trail and I knew it was 6 miles to where we hoped to camp that night and I knew it was mostly uphill.  But that was to be expected, how else do you get into the good stuff?  The high mountain lakes with the views?

Upper Phyllis Lake
Christine at Upper Phyllis Lake.

It’s been two years since our last backpacking trip.  We’ve hiked and car camped, but it’s not the same.  Thirty pounds doesn’t seem like much, but it changes your gate, affects your every move, and there is something about fitting everything you need in that pack.  It feels good – like your leaving the weight of life, job, worries, house, all that stuff behind and only moving forward with the essentials.

Then there’s the simple fact that it’s nature.  With each step down the trail as you get further away from your vehicle, it surrounds you, envelopes you.  I’ve always known it’s good for me and I’ve viscerally missed it these last 2 years.  I’ve always felt like it resets my mind and body.

Old Burn area
We walked through a wonderful old burn area, where the trees are bare showing thru the blue sky, but the underbrush is far from bare. It is growing fast with little trees, bushes, and fireweed flowers.

Body wise, it hurts. My only advice is go out for as long as possible.  Three days isn’t enough for the hips, knees, and shoulders to stop being angry at you.  Trust me, I’ve had long conversations with these body parts during hikes.  But, sometime between day 5 and day 7 my body decides, “Well, she’s not stopping.” And it goes into survival mode.  I’m a fan of survival mode because it usually involves the hips, right where that hip belt is cinched around me, going numb.  As I say that, perhaps it's not very nice for me to wish a part of my body to go numb - doesn't sound very mindful...  But it's good for me to be aware, that is how my body in that location has chosen to deal with the hip belt.  Sometime after day 10, the body rests in strength. With the knowledge of what you are doing a whole new trust in yourself and your body arises and settles calmly over you.  This confidence and trust in self carries over into the non-backpacking world with a quiet strength.

The mind – backpacking is an interesting exercise for the mind.  It eventually takes a rest.  It realizes life is simple.  It’s about eating, walking and sleeping.  In between there are activities like pumping water, watching for animals, setting up and taking down shelter every day, and basic, very basic, cleanliness.  This calming of the mind has always just eventually happened for me.  I count on it, but don’t pay much attention to how or when it happens.  The fact that it’s been two years since I hit the trail and in those two years my meditation and mindfulness practice has hit a whole new level, added new awareness to this trip.  It made the mind part of this trip especially interesting.

It was like being in the front row of a movie about someone that couldn’t let go and that someone was my mind.  The mind relaxed and settled into the breath and the body fairly quickly. It recognized the practice of a walking meditation. But all of a sudden it was like, “Wait! We need to be thinking about something!  It’s the middle of the day on a Friday, we can’t just be walking!” and I’d start thinking about news, politics, upsetting things going on in the world, etc.  A few times I initiated a conversation about these things with Joe.  But each time, with one foot in front of the other, the mind would be lulled into present moment calm again.  Then like a two year old who is resisting sleep with everything he has, the mind would raise its head and come roaring back.  “Oh you should think about the visit to your parents, or an upcoming training, or what you could have done differently in a client meeting last week, or …”  But each time there would be longer periods of breath and body, in between delirious periods of grasping for thought, grasping for the outside world, the past and the future.

Coffee Views
Not a bad view as we drank our coffee.

Finally the mind realized it could settle.  Nothing bad would happen.  Settling didn’t mean it, ‘the mind’, wasn’t needed.  We still needed to be aware of dangers as we walked.  We had to pay attention so we didn’t trip over roots and rocks or fall off the edge of the trail.  Being me – my mind knew that was a distinct possibility!  We had to listen for noises and identify the harmless coo’s of the Ruffed Grouse as different from the noises of a bear moving through the woods.  We paid attention to the different tracks and signs of deer, elk, moose, and bear, so we were aware of our surroundings.  It was as if with each step, I connected a little more with the earth and became a part of my surroundings, a part of the present moment along with the Ponderosa Pines, Spruce, and Tamarak trees; along with the Huckleberry and other bushes beginning to fade into shades of yellows, oranges, and reds; and along with the last wilting Indian Paintbrush, Bluebell, and Aster flowers.

This ability to really watch my mind as if it were separate, with no judgement - although I admit to mild amusement at times - this was really special.

Tamarak Larch Trees
The yellow trees in this picture are Tamarak Larch trees. They have needles but shed them every fall.

For some of my clients, I’ve encouraged you to really give walking meditation a try for this exact reason, it seems that by entering into meditation with the body, the mind follows a little easier.  Even if you can’t find a trailhead this week, I encourage you to take a walk out to your garden or through a local park and just put one foot in front of the other. Connect with your breath and bring your attention into your feet and legs.  From that vantage point allow thoughts to pass by as if they were the clouds above you and just keep bringing your attention back to your feet and your breath.  Allow yourself to be taken in by the nature around you.  Stop to appreciate a tree beginning to change into fall colors or the rough bark of the tree.  Stop to use your senses and smell the earth, whether damp or dry.  Allow the symphony of sound around you to enter your conscious, with no need to identify, hear the different bird songs and the breeze as it moves through the trees and grasses.  Feel your shoulders release back and down into your back and feel yourself relax more deeply into the earth with each step.

For those that are interested, I’ve recorded a short Walking Meditation for Beginners guided audio that you can use to get the feel for what a walking meditation might be like.  You can find it here, under Resources/Guided Meditations on this website. Scroll down to Walking Meditation.  After listening to it and practicing, take your practice outside! Let me know what piece of nature you took in this week.

Mindfulness of Food

Everyday Mindfulness Mindfulness Practice

Some of you may know I had a food blog once upon a time.  I lapsed for a few reasons, including the fact that there are so many great bloggers out there and I’m not a food photographer.  But, I’ve been missing it lately.  I barely make the time to keep this blog updated so why I’ve been missing it I’m not certain, but I loved sharing food with people.  So many of my friends and family are spread all around the country and it was a way to connect.  So, because it was what I wanted to do on my Labor Day, I put an update on my Food blog, Please Repeat about our abundance of plums and I’m sharing the link here in case some of you would enjoy it.  I may share my food updates more often coming up.  We’ll see.  If you go through you can see I had begun including Mindfulness into that blog, before lapsing.

Plums and Apples
Plums and Apples from our fruit trees. Picture taken by Christine Lustik

Mindful eating is something I struggle with and always have.  I’ve always eaten too fast.  Why? I don’t know. But it is especially noticeable as my husband is a very slow eater.  I'm jealous of his ability to eat slow.  It's an ongoing practice for me, something I will continue to work for a long time.  I continue to try to slow down and chew and enjoy my food while I’m eating it.

The thing is, there’s a whole other part of my food about which I find it much easier to be Mindful.  I work hard to be very thoughtful about the food I put in my mouth, where it comes from and what comes with it.  I love to spend full days just cooking meals even if it’s only for my husband and I.  I carefully pick out ingredients from my favorite farmers at the famers market.  It's one of the main reasons we moved to Missoula, the abundance of local food.  I’m the person that chats with each farmer.  This part of Mindful Eating that makes us thoughtful about where our food comes from and how it is prepared.  This part I have down!  For example, I’d like to share this past Saturday with you.

I got up and headed out to the farmers market.  Yes, I am one of the early people at the market.  I love being there when there’s still a little chill in the air.  It’s just starting to smell like coffee and breakfast foods and everyone has just finished setting up their tables after their early morning start.  The market isn’t packed yet and I can greet people and chat as I determine which cheese or fun vegetable to buy that week.  I love trying new things each week.  This year I’ve been learning more about cooking artichokes and I bought fresh Cranberry beans (the kind one usually buys dried) the other week that were yummy!  Anyway this week I kept it simple as I thought about what I already had in my own gardens at home and in the fridge.  I thought about the meat I’d pulled out of the freezer for that night and how many dinners I needed.  I usually cook dinner 6-7 nights per week and this week will be the same.

Cranberry Beans
Cranberry Beans - Picture taken by Christine Lustik.

After the market I head home to clean and get all my finds put away.   It was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and it was a rainy day.  This is why I love fall!  Rainy, cool, days just call for me to be in the kitchen!

First, I decided to attack our excess of plums.  Our plum tree doesn’t always produce, but this year it’s making up for those slow years!  They are small, but oh so good.  I’ve dehydrated a couple trays; made a plum salsa that was great as a side for some trout; and we’ve eaten many just standing at the sink, but on Saturday I had time.  I made a small batch of  Plum Fig Jam and I decided to make a Plum upside down cake.  You can read about these in the food blog.  You’ll have to trust me that they both came out!

Then I attacked a nice dinner.  For dinner we had venison roast complete with gravy from the pan drippings, fresh green beans from the farmers market tossed in toasted almonds, and roasted sweet potatoes with rosemary from the garden.  Dessert was an Almond Teff Plum Upside-down Cake!  A simple dinner, but filled with love and fall flavors.

Saturday, I spent a whole day putting up some foods for winter; using food that came from our land; and planning a meal around local, seasonal, organic foods.  As I cook I love paying attention to the colors.  I think about how these foods are going to nourish us and keep us healthy; how they don’t have chemicals or pesticides in them; and how by spending this time in such a way I’m showing kindness toward myself and my loved one.

A set dinner table
Saturday dinner table - Photo taken by Christine Lustik.

I took the time to set a nice table and we both fully enjoyed this meal.  I must say, the roast melted in our mouths, but my favorite part was the cake!  As cool weather slowly comes to various parts of the country I encourage you to use these days to enjoy the warmth coming out of the kitchen and to take the time to enjoy cooking a meal for your own loved ones. Take the time to think about your food; the people who grew it and transported it to where you bought it.  How far did it go? How many people were involved?  As we continue to work to be mindful of our everyday activities try to include Mindfulness of the food you eat and the caring that goes into preparing it, even just once a week.  And remember, we all have strengths and challenges.  Those challenges become our ongoing practices, they don't make us any less than, they just give us something to practice.

Tell us what you love about food.  Are you more mindful with eating, or choosing the food, or cooking?

Practicing Gratitude

Everyday Mindfulness Gratitude

I’ve written about gratitude before, but can we focus too much on gratitude? This past Saturday, was a great day.  Despite heavy wildfire smoke and ash falling on us, there was a lot going on in Missoula and we were all stir crazy enough to be out and about in the smoke enjoying it.  We had a big college football game in town, and all the people that go along with such an event; we had our yearly Roots Festival with streets closed off downtown and lots of great, free music; and to top it off friend’s had the perfect backyard gathering.  It was a day of visiting with lots of friends in both quiet and loud atmospheres, art friends, music friends, sports friends, etc. That night as I was in bed, preparing to fall asleep, I quietly asked myself what I was grateful for at that moment.  Research shows that feeling grateful gives us more joy and happiness; lowers our blood pressure; improves the strength of our immune systems; and helps us act with more generosity and compassion.

You can find even more out about the science of gratitude at the following links:

Usually it’s simple, “I’m grateful for my home, my husband, fresh air, or the kale growing in my garden.”  But, this time my mind went in a different direction.  I found myself thinking bigger.  Thinking, “I’m grateful for the diversity of people I interact with on a daily basis.  I’m grateful I have friends, peers, acquaintances, past coworkers, etc. of different ages; male and female; from different cultural and geographic backgrounds; gay and straight; people with different political ideals; different religious and spiritual beliefs; those who love sports and those who don’t care about sports; those who love live music and those for whom the radio is live enough; people I disagree with on a few things in life and people I disagree with a lot.”  Just like most people, I tend to gravitate toward those with whom I have common thoughts, but I am grateful for those people that help me gain perspective on other viewpoints.  Those who are willing to have hard conversations that help both of us grow and learn.  Even when I still don’t agree, by understanding their viewpoints, the feeling of me versus them is less, and the feeling of how interconnected we all are increases.  Recognizing all of this and acknowledging how grateful I am really did increase my joy and my optimism.  It did increase my compassion toward others and it helped me breath just a little easier, even with the smoke in the air.  I acknowledge that my feelings are not very scientific, but I encourage you to try it and see if it works for you!

Do you have a minute right now?  Instead of putting it off till later, take this moment to feel grateful, whether it’s for the little things or the big things.  Sit upright in your chair with both feet on the ground, resting your hands lightly in your lap – move them away from the keyboard.  Gently close your eyes or gaze lightly out the window and sitting with your breath, feeling the inhale and the out breath, just allow yourself to sense what you are grateful for right now - even if it's coffee.  Feel that gratefulness as it spreads throughout the body traveling with the breath, like a hidden internal smile spreading into all areas of your body.  Sit like that for a few breaths, then exhale, open your eyes or move them back to the screen and get back to your day.

Gratitude Apps and actions:

  • http://thnx4.org/ - A gratitude journal that you can share or keep private and by doing it and answering their questions you help with research on gratitude.
  • http://getgratitude.co/ - A gratitude journal app for the iphone.
  • In addition to keeping a Gratitude Journal, or instead of keeping a journal, you can choose to actively show your gratitude by sending ‘thank you’ or ‘I’m thinking of you’ cards.  And it is perfectly fine to just mentally ask yourself about your gratitude, like I do as I crawl into bed.

The Comfort of Feeling Heard

Everyday Mindfulness Inspiration

I’ve always believed it’s better to say I’m sorry than to make excuses or constantly come up with defenses that are meant to uphold my own sense of pride.  If we can lessen pain or frustration, instead of increase it, why wouldn’t we do so?  And yes, sometimes this means saying I’m sorry for something that you didn’t personally do.   I’ve had this conversation with most of my past employees, at one point or another.  But why is it better?

For example, many of you know I used to fly a lot for work and often found myself stranded or late.  For the most part I’d plan ahead and be able to handle this frustration.  But, sometimes it

Struggle: Picture from morguefile.com by grietgriet
Struggle: Picture from morguefile.com by grietgriet

would overwhelm me.  And I remember one time standing in an hour long line at United customer service in DIA (Denver International Airport).  If you’ve spent any amount of time in Concourse B at DIA you’ve seen these lines.  When I got to the front I wasn’t angry or yelling; I just wanted someone to listen to me.  I wanted to express calmly that this was the 4th trip in a row where my flight had been canceled.  If they weren’t going to run this flight they shouldn’t offer it.  This really did affect people’s lives.  The person at the front was tired and I’m sure wished they had a different job by the time I got there, but they could have made life a little easier for themselves also.  All that person did was list off excuses.  “Miss, there is weather there is nothing we can do.  Weather… weather… weather…..”  Funny, that didn’t make me feel heard at all.  I walked away even more frustrated than I’d been.  On the other hand, I once had a customer service agent that stopped what she was doing, listened to me and said, “I understand.  This has happened to me also and it really affects your family and work doesn’t?  I am so sorry for your inconvenience.  We are working to solve the issues with commonly late and canceled flights.”  I felt listened to on that day.  I didn’t get anything more than I did the time before.  I still only had a seat on the flight the next morning.  I still had to sit in the airport all night or go find a hotel room, but I was ok with it.  I wasn’t alone.  I didn’t even care if she was lying and United didn’t care and wasn’t working on it.  She had listened to me.

A few days ago this topic rumbled around in my head as we sat without power and I worried about my freezer items.  We were only out of power for 21 hours, many people in Missoula were out much longer than us due to bad storms and some are still without power when I write this over 60 hours later.  Interestingly, I was ok being out of power. I knew there was a storm and people were working on it.  I didn’t expect magic to happen.  But then I was listening to MTPR (Montana Public Radio) on my iPod and on local news they interviewed someone from Northwestern, our electric company.  That person said, they’d had a lot of people without power, but the crews had worked all night and they had most of the issues solved.  That was blatantly untrue.  We were to find out over 18,000 people were still without power and would be for a long time.  That comment got to me.  As a PR person, they could have said something like, “We are aware many people are without power.  Our crews have been working hard overnight and they have restored a lot of power, but we have many customers still without power and we will keep working until everyone is back up.”  It is possible to acknowledge how hard one is working, while still acknowledge there is more to be done.  I guess they thought someone without power wouldn’t be listening to the radio!

Listening: Picture from morguefile.com from Darnok.
Listening: Picture from morguefile.com from Darnok.

These examples are customer service examples, but I invite us to think about this in the way we talk to friends, family, and anyone around us.  How can we speak with concern for that person, recognizing they had a tough morning or a certain situation is hard on them?  It may also be hard on us, and that should just help us even more to recognize the pain they are in at that moment.  What can we do to lessen the pain?  I encourage you to practice seeing where the person you are talking to is coming from and instead of trying to make them feel better; or helping them to see another side to a situation; or defending anything; maybe you can just listen and practice saying, “That must be really hard.” “Tell me about how this feels.”  “I’m sorry you have to deal with this right now.”

I would argue that helping someone feel heard may be one of the greatest and simplest gifts we can practice giving on a daily basis; a gift that costs the giver nothing, nothing but time and a little compassion.

Recognizing Our Storylines and Choosing To Change Them

Daily Mindfulness Inspiration Self Compassion Thoughts

This weekend I had to have an intervention with my thoughts.  I was trying to figure out why I was not attacking a certain big project that I’d been thinking about for a good time now.  Not only was I not attacking it – I was not moving forward on it in any way.  I felt overwhelmed by it and so found myself doing other things. In taking some quiet time to breath and reflect, I realized scary, negative thoughts kept going through my head.  The storyline in my head was how overwhelming it was to do by myself.  To be tech person, audio/video specialist, mindfulness specialist, and teacher all together was feeling like too many hats.  I wondered if it would succeed.  I was allowing myself to think things like, “Others are already doing it, who do I think I am? “.

Sometimes are thoughts are tumultuous and not very useful to our forward moment in life.
Sometimes are thoughts are tumultuous and not very useful to our forward moment in life.

During my reflection, I reminded myself that I cannot succeed if I don’t even try.  I reminded myself that I can’t do everything, but in this case I had the skills!  If I dig back into my education and experience, Yes!  I have developed online courses; worked with audio; worked with video; and done all the things necessary to move forward in this project.  Yes, there is a lot of new technology since then, but I have experience learning new technology and I can do it!  And yes, others are already teaching online, but that doesn’t mean I can’t succeed.  All teachers are different and attract different people.  I realized I could do this but I needed to change the storyline in my head.

How many of you have experienced these types of situations?  Maybe you realized that you were putting off something you’d planned to do? Or you just weren’t moving forward in some area of your life and if you sat quietly you might have realized that you were standing in your own way.  The storyline going through your head was negative and not encouraging.  It didn’t focus on your strengths and abilities; instead it focused on your perceived weaknesses!  This is not a good place to be!

Through neuroplasticity research we now know that our brain changes throughout our adult life.  We can not only take on new activities, but we can change and become happier, kinder, etc.  This also means that we can become sadder and more negative.  This information makes it extra important to stay on alert.  To question our thoughts and habits, especially the ones that aren’t helpful to leading our best life!

On this morning it was smooth rowing for me and I fully enjoyed the feeling of ease!
On this morning it was smooth rowing for me and I fully enjoyed the feeling of ease!

My love of rowing is a constant reminder for me to question the thoughts in my head.  I have what I’d refer to as a healthy respect for water – some might say fear. But I love rowing! So, I often find myself in water that is a bit scary.  It might be wavier than I would like.  Maybe I’ve been out too long and the wind came up and there are white caps and I have to get back across the lake.  Or maybe while I was out the lake got busy with water skiers and other people in motor boats.  Or like a couple days ago I was out in the evening and before I know it; dark is upon me.  I start thinking, “I don’t have a light on.” and “What if I flip and people can’t find me?”.  When I row it’s a constant practice to remind myself.  Christine you have the skills.  You have a boat that has always been sturdy and gotten you through everything.  You have a life jacket.  You know how to swim, whether you like to or not.  You can do this.  Do you have an activity that you love, but sometimes it scares you?

I invite you to consciously look for these opportunities in your life to practice positive self-talk.  Instead of it’s hard to learn new technology, I am choosing to say “I know and am confident with technology.”.  I’m giving myself a new truth.

It’s important not to be hard on ourselves when we identify these thought patterns.  They are probably learned behaviors that we took on to protect ourselves in some way at some point in the past.  But it is ok to recognize that while that thought or behavior pattern might have met our needs at one time, it is no longer useful.   It's not as easy as saying, "I'm done with that I'm changing", especially when we've created a habit,  but take solace in the research telling us we can create new habits if we keep interrupting the old and inserting the new.   There’s a lot of information on research on neuroplasticity, to get us started here is an initial article on it from Medical Daily.  Play-Doh Neuroplasticity: 4 Things That Can Actually Change The Shape Of Your Brain

Any thought patterns you'd like to interrupt more often?