3 Tips For Dealing With Those “Why Me!” “Why Now!” Moments

3 Tips For Dealing With Those “Why Me!” “Why Now!” Moments

Daily Mindfulness Emotions Mindfulness Practice Self Compassion Thoughts

We’ve all had those mornings, shutting off the alarm was hard, time flew by, we are grabbing things as we head out the door without a coat buttoned up and then we spill our coffee, and we are thinking: “It’s going to be a bad day.” or “Really, what else could go wrong!” or “What next?!” And what happens after that? Well, most of the time the day does continue in that direction. But, is it because the day is preset to be bad, or because we’ve already set that expectation in our head and our actions are, unfortunately, creating havoc. We may be moving fast without thinking, without being in the present moment. We are probably thinking about the meeting we are late for, or how this always happens, instead of consciously choosing where we set the coffee down or thinking about how we are driving.

Can we avoid those moments altogether? Well, probably not. The good news is we can definitely minimize these moments by staying in the present moment; planning ahead for our busy times; and developing practices that help our mind pause before it reacts, practices such as Mindfulness, Tai Chi, QiGong, and gratitude. The other news – we are still human and we are surrounded by other humans, and pets, that we can’t always control. Sometimes moments aren’t going to go as planned.  Following are three tips for dealing with those moments when all you can think is “Why me?”  or “Why now?”.Woman taking a breath.

Breathe.  Does every Mindfulness practice need to start with this? Yes. I’m pretty sure that’s the rule. I could say pause or slow down, but many people have been trained to believe that action is good. Therefore, they have an immediate negative reaction to being told they should slow down or pause or hesitate. Breathing is a way of coming back to the present moment and still taking action. Connecting with your breath at any moment is a courageous thing to do, because your breath is going to bring you back to the present moment and connect you to it. Truth be told, we often like to avoid many moments, pretend they don’t exist, hope they go away. Therefore, to always come back to the moment, with curiosity and an intention of learning from that moment is brave. So, when you realize you are in a crazy moment, the first thing to do is bring all of your attention to your breath and follow the flow of breath in and out of the body at least once, maybe 3 times, or until you feel like your head is no longer going to explode.

If you find the breath stressful, which is naturally true for a percentage of the population due to health issues or past trauma, please feel free to come back to the feeling of your feet on the floor or the weight and sensation of your hands instead. You can use breath, feet, or hands as your present moment focus.

Question Your Thoughts.  If you are anything like me your mind is quickly searching for someone/something to blame for this moment. If only that person in front of me wasn’t driving slow, I would be on time.  It’s my husband’s fault, he distracted me this morning and then I forgot …. Darn dogs… kids…  they never listen.  That person knows I had a meeting; they really had to stop by my office right then?  Coffee was too hot. Food took too long to prepare. The person at the coffee shop was slow.  You know the drill. The key here, after using your breath to back off the ledge, is to find a little claMan with question symbols around his head.rity, and maybe some humor, in your thoughts. Ask yourself questions. “Is what I’m thinking true?” Usually we are trying to blame someone because then it isn’t our fault, but does it have to be anyone’s fault? The morning was a little crazy, that customer needed an answer, your child fell – it just happened. Ask yourself, “What just happened?” And without blaming or judgment, “What is my next step or action?” This gives us a chance to pause and choose our next response or action.

Remember, you are not alone.  We are all human. I know I keep repeating this, but I’ve had those moments where I forget and think I’m some perfect being that can control myself and everything else around me, so I’m hoping others have those moments also. Even someone who lives alone in a cabin in the woods, probably has unexpected things happen to them. Seeing our moments as part of a larger human experience helps us realize that life is imperfect and we are not alone. And, if we are lucky, it helps us find some humor in the situation. Sometimes I find myself rushing and then I stop and remind myself, with some kind humor, “You know Christine, just like everyone else the rules of time apply to you. Given that, what can you realistically do before you need to leave the house?”

When we are in the mindset of this is all happening “to me”, it is much easier to get angry or frustrated. If, we can remember we have some control over how we choose to move forward, we aren’t alone, and time applies to everyone, it makes it easier to laugh a little at the spilled coffee or slow person, actually going the speed limit, in front of us and back down out of the stress of the moment.

Additional Resources:

Neff, Kristin. Embracing Our Common Humanity with Self-Compassion. http://self-compassion.org/embracing-our-common-humanity-with-self-compassion/

Seppala, Emma. (February 7, 2014) Benefits of Breathing The Scientific Benefits of Breathing Infographic.  https://emmaseppala.com/benefits-breathing-scientific-benefits-breathing-infographic/

Describing Mindfulness – What is it?

Daily Mindfulness

Almost every day, someone asks me, “So…. What is Mindfulness?”.

To begin, Mindfulness is a contemplative practice.  As I explain on my website, it started in Buddhism thousands of years ago, and has been taught in a secular way in the United States since 1979.  Since being taught in the U.S., there’s also been a lot of research done on Mindfulness and how it supports people's wellness, both mentally and physically.  Contemplative practices have long been associated with spiritual traditions and have moved beyond spiritual traditions as they become recognized by the medical and health communities for the way they help people grow awareness of self and surrounding.  This awareness supports each person’s ability to balance all areas of life.  There is a wonderful Tree of Contemplative Practices found on the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s website, which can help describe the many areas of practice that fall in this category.

To help understanding, I’ve been thinking it might be beneficial to have a visual.  This is my first attempt at creating a visual of a “Mindful moment” and below I describe the visual.

A pie chart listing all the pieces of Mindfulness

So with our understanding that Mindfulness is a contemplative practice, we learn that Mindfulness is more than a state of mind, it is a practice like yoga or running.  It’s something that we dedicate time to in our busy life because we believe it will be beneficial to our health and happiness.  Basically, I tell people Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment with curiosity and non-judgement.  We learn to focus on each component of a moment, including, our breath, body, thought, emotion, sound/senses, and feeling tone.  These are like the pieces in our Mindfulness pie.  We can focus our awareness on any one piece of the pie or we can sit in open awareness of the whole pie at any one given moment.  In addition, when we sit, whether focused on one area, or when we are holding open awareness of all areas, we sit in non judgement of whatever “comes up” and encouraging kindness toward our self.   This kindness toward our self and our thoughts and reactions, allows us to acknowledge each moment without labeling it good or bad.  By doing so, we are more likely to honestly look at that moment and purposely move forward in an appropriate way.  In Mindfulness, we use meditation to practice our awareness of the present moment, so that we can take that awareness of each moment into every interaction and moment throughout our day.  By taking this awareness into our day, we are better able to maintain our focus on any task and we are able to do so with less judgement toward ourselves and others.  Non-judgement is important, because while it might be our goal to bring Mindfulness into every moment, we are human and we are sure to respond without thought at some time to a situation.  In those times, we want to be able to laugh at our imperfect selves and try again.

If you’ve been following me, but were still unsure about what Mindfulness really was, I hope this has helped.   Questions?

Finding Our Pause

Daily Mindfulness Thoughts Uncategorized

Today, I invite you to pay attention to the parts of your day that tie everything else together, the transition times.  These are the minutes that we have as we shift between our daily to-do’s.  The drive or walk between work and home; the walk between meetings; the walk to lunch, or to the break room or to the bathroom; the drive home from work; the brief moments between dinner and putting kids to bed, and changing between activities such as reading, exercising, opening the computer to do more work at home … You get the idea.  We have a lot of transition moments in our day and for many of us, these moments are filled with thoughts of where we came from and what we have to do when we get where we are going.  They may also be filled with thinking, such as, “I better not forget to ______”.

Transition Moments
Transition Moments

Many of us don’t even think of these moments as transitions.  We just view them as extensions of past and future to-do’s.  But what if every time you transitioned between what you did and what’s next you used those seconds or minutes to find your breath and return to a sense of calm.  Every space like this in our day gives us a chance for realignment, a chance to reconnect to the present moment.  Every time we come back to the present moment, we let go of the stress that came with where we’ve been and the worry about where we are going.  Beginning a practice of using the transitions to come back to the present moment gives us back our day!  And, it brings our mindfulness practice into our everyday life!

I’m a big fan of practicing to find the hesitation between my automatic reaction and my purposeful response.  The word hesitation can get a bad rap.  It can be perceived as doubt or reluctance, unwillingness or delay.  But, who can’t think of a time when a small hesitation would have served them well?  Helped them say what they meant to say?  This is what we are doing here, we are realizing that every time we change activity, go from silence to talking, etc. is a moment that we can use and we don’t have to do anything but recognize that as a moment of choice. For those that see hesitation as a negative, perhaps it would be better to use the word “pause”.  A pause is a breathing space or interlude, a respite or intermission.   Well, that sounds lovely doesn’t it?  Our days would be like going to the spa with short little intermissions constantly throughout our day; intermissions that never interrupted us and always helped us to focus better on what was coming up.

Well, I might be stretching it a little, with the spa metaphor, but I speak the truth when it comes to this simple way of encouraging more focus throughout our days.

calm water picture
Spa Moments

Here’s how it works.  It is easier to invite Mindfulness into our day when we find a trigger that we can use to remind ourselves.  Then it’s just retraining our mind to come back to the present moment, back to the anchor of our breath, or our feet, or our hands, whenever we come across that trigger.  Just one breath or conscious moment of recognizing the weight and movement of our feet as they walk is enough to pull us away from the past and future back to the present.  This one moment is enough to begin relaxing our shoulders and changing our attitude toward the next item on our calendar.  The more moments we can insert throughout our day, the less crazed and out of control we feel.  The more we feel like we can handle what comes next.

What is the trigger you use to bring yourself back to the present moment and away from  your ruminating mind?  A red light if you drive a lot between meetings?  Walking to the bathroom?

If you ever have any questions about a blog post or perhaps the breath is hard for you and you’d like more instructions on using a different anchor point, don’t hesitate to drop me an email.

Three Tips for Communicating Mindfully With Our Difficult People

Daily Mindfulness Emotions

Recently I spoke at a conference with the theme of "Together we can …".  This is the perfect title for a conference in our great community of Missoula.  But, I like what it doesn’t say even more.  It doesn’t say, “us versus them”.  Now, of course, a conference wouldn't be titled "us versus them" as that wouldn’t  be politically correct, but even when it’s not explicitly said, “us versus them” is the implication that we receive all too often in our society through our news reporting, social media, and even the workplace.  There’s always an “us”, and “them” is always those “other” people.  The people we don’t agree with, the difficult people.  We separate ourselves on a variety of views, but, what if we could disagree with someone while still holding them as a fellow human being who is just trying to do their best – just like us?  What if we could have calm, friendly conversations with people at work or with neighbors with whom we have fundamental differences?  What if we could still work together with them toward a common goal at work or in our neighborhood?  Imagine that world.

Finding Common Ground
Finding Common Ground

Imagine the stress right now of having to walk into a meeting and sit down across from someone with whom you always seem to butt heads.  How is that conversation going to go when you both come to the table ready for a fight or prepared for there to be no middle ground?

At some time, we all have to work with people whom we’ve struggled with in the past.  Here are some tips from the contemplative practice of Mindfulness to help each of us sense our community with others, so there’s less of a sense of “them” and more of a sense of “us”.

  1. Connect with your body. I invite you to notice when you get tight – you know the feeling – your jaw clamps shut, your forehead scrunches down, or some other part of you tightens up.  The feeling hits all of us differently, so identify where the feeling of anger and frustration settles in your body.  You may already know, but it’s very possible you’ve never consciously taken note.  But now that you have, this is your warning sign.  Before you even feel angry, notice “Yikes, forehead scrunching!  Warning!”  By simply beginning to tie into our body and really notice what’s going on, we take the first step to move away from our thinking mind - the part that is starting to tell a story about why you don’t like this person or why this situation isn’t fair.  We return to the present moment and we have a better chance of letting our rational mind return.
  2. Breathe. You’ve connected with your body, now connect with the other piece of you that is always there waiting for attention and waiting to bring you back to the present moment, your breath. Before responding in any way, simply take a mere moment to follow your inhale and your exhale.  This practice creates the hesitation you always need to properly respond to anything.  Note, for some people focusing on the breath can make them anxious.  If you are one of these people, instead try bringing your attention to the firmness of your feet on the ground.
  3. Just Like Me. This is one of my favorite practices.  It’s meant for each time you feel yourself start to get frustrated.  You feel your breath quicken and your body start to tighten as the car in front of you moves at a snail’s pace or the person across the table says something that seems like it is just outright contradicting what you just said.  Instead think,
    • Just like me, this person wants to be happy. It’s true; nobody is trying to go through life miserable.  We may not agree with how they are trying to be happy, but still …
    • Just like me, this person is trying to get somewhere. Apparently, they gave themselves more time to get there, but still …
    • Just like me, this person sitting across from me is searching for the best solution. We may not agree on what the best solution is, but still …

“Just like me” really helps me move from “them” to “us” in my mind and my response.  I hope these practices also help you as you work with the difficult people in your life.  Maybe they even help you to see some humor in your own thoughts!

What do you mean we are causing our own suffering? That’s crazy!

Clinging Daily Mindfulness Impermanence Inspiration Thoughts

It’s generally believed in Mindfulness that clinging causes suffering.  Think about it a moment.  When we are attached to an outcome, we desire that one specific thing to happen and we tend to be more likely to suffer when that exact outcome is not achieved.  We all have different levels of clinging to different things in our life.

Some people let the big things go, but something as small as the time change can throw them for a loop.  How many people do you know, or you may be one of them, that rant about the time change?  Perhaps one complains about it on Facebook or blames all foggy mornings for weeks on the time change?  In this case, we lost an hour.  There’s nothing we can do about it.  We know this is coming, it’s not like it was a surprise and we had an expectation of doing something with that hour.  Our whole life the time has changed, every year, unless of course you live in Arizona or one of the few other places where it doesn’t change.  And yet, this throws some people and they cause themselves suffering and grumpiness for weeks because of the time change.

There’s a concept called impermanence.  I’ve mentioned this concept before.  The one thing we can count on is that everything in life is impermanent.  Weather, attitude, pain, it’s all going to come and go.  If it’s what we consider to be pleasant now, we can guarantee it will become unpleasant at some point.  But the bright spot is we know it will become pleasant again!  When we combine these two ideas, by remembering the idea of impermanence perhaps we can begin to loosen our grasp on the clinging, just a bit.

Personally, I’ve found myself clinging to the idea of winter.  I love my seasons and even though they’ve been warning us about El Nino for months now, I find myself clinging to my desire for snow, or more specifically, not rain!  I know I am causing myself suffering.  I call myself on it constantly.  I have these conversations in my head, “Christine, you are complaining about the weather again.  You know there is nothing you can do about it and it will snow at some point.  Until then you can always hike instead of ski.”  I loosen up a bit, vow not to complain about the weather anymore and then the next time I run into someone and they say “Hi, how are you?” I say, “Fine, but what about this weather?  Do you how much snow we’d have if it were cold enough?!” And, the whole thing starts over.

Rain
Reality lately.
Picture from Unsplash.com.
Snow
Desired Reality. Picture taken by Christine at Snowbowl ski area in 2013.

And these are the little things in life.  I’m causing myself suffering simply because I’m always confused by what coat I should wear when I leave the house and I wonder if the skiing will be good all winter.  There are so many examples of expectations that we cling to in our everyday life.  We expect everything from meetings to meals, events, and vacations to all go as planned.  Unfortunately, while we are busy freaking out about something that is different, we are often missing that moment.  We are in the moment we wanted, but missing the moment that is here.    This is one of the many ways our life passes us by so quickly. Even if it is an unpleasant moment, there is a benefit to experiencing it; and often the sooner we recognize it’s unpleasant, the sooner we find a bit of pleasant.

I invite you to practice recognizing when you are missing a moment, because you are stuck in the moment you wanted.  Don’t beat yourself up every time, just notice.  It’s human nature to plan, we’ve all been doing it our whole lives, some more than others.  But perhaps during this busy holiday season, you can practice letting go a bit.  Was everyone supposed to be going for a walk, but the weather is bad? Play a game!  Did you have big plans for the perfect dessert, but the cake doesn’t look like the picture in the book?  Turn it into a trifle – even fancier!  Practice in each moment recognizing if you want something to be different and just look around and smile at what is now.

This is it image
This is it by Thich Nhat Hanh. Copyright Lions Roar. Prints of this image can be found at store.lionsroar.com.

Please note - This is a hard practice!  I find I have to always be watching for that little clinging “I wish” desire, but every time I pull myself back to the moment, even if it’s a rainy moment with the clouds hanging over the mountains, I can find more ease than the moment before when I was clinging to my plan, my expectation.

In this season, I wish nothing more than for all beings to find the ease that an open heart and open mind bring, an ease from fear, from clinging, from desire, from anger.

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/

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.

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?

Contentment and Discontentment – At the same time…

Daily Mindfulness Thoughts

Within hours this past Saturday, I felt both strong and weak.  I felt good about my body and its shape and I had thoughts wishing certain parts were fitter and more slender.   It was interesting “sensing” all of these feelings and thoughts as they flowed through my awareness, while trying to not give them strength.  It really got me thinking about some of the concepts of Mindfulness that we discuss in classes I teach and how they play out constantly in our minds and bodies, whether we are aware of them or not.  In just this ½ day I recognized the following concepts playing out:

Farmers market bounty.
Weekend pleasant moment: A successful farmers market run!

Each moment is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.  During this time, there were very pleasant moments of joy, gratitude, and contentment and there were unpleasant moments of discontentment with self and pain.  But, mostly there were moments that were ok, or neutral, life passing by.  I’ve had the opportunity in the past couple weeks filled with headaches to recognize it’s possible to experience pain, but to still have very pleasant moments.  To recognize the pain but not let it take over the overarching joy of nature, music, friends, and community is an interesting experience.

That leads to the ability to treat ourselves with kindness.  To be with our bodies when they aren’t at their strongest moments in a gentle way, always coming back to the breath and each moment. There is not one person in this world that is always at their very best.  At some point in life, we all have a bad night’s sleep, or get sick, or hurt a body part, or just wake up with a weird headache or pain in our neck or back.    It doesn’t make us weak, it makes us human.  Give yourself a break.  Listen to your body, investigate the feeling.  Hmm, is that a constant pain? Does it come and go?  Is it sharp or dull?  Give it some attention so you can make a good decision about resting it or pushing through.  Mentally put a hand on that spot as if you were comforting a friend that was in pain.  Wouldn’t it be easier to treat our body like a friend, instead of an enemy?

flowers
Weekend Pleasant Moment: Flowers picked from my garden.

Then there’s that concept that our thoughts are just thoughts – not necessarily truths.  Those thoughts that go through my mind wishing my thighs were thinner, beating myself up about the extra pound in my stomach, etc. are just that – random words.  Just thinking them doesn’t make it true that my thighs are fat and I better obsess about it.  It simply means for a brief moment we’ve wished something or bought into some ad or societal communication that we’ve internalized.  It’s probably best to recognize these thoughts early, to note that they may not be productive and maybe I’ve been watching too much tv. The sooner we can recognize this, the more pleasant moments we can have!  Unpleasant moments often come from letting ourselves believe we should be something different than what we are right now, in this moment.  For example, I could easily have worked myself into great discontentment if I’d concentrated on everything else I should be doing this past Saturday afternoon, like weeding my gardens.  There’s a time that might have been my inclination, even on days we’d agreed to do something else.  Instead I allowed myself to just be, to sit in a small meadow surrounded by beautiful trees and mountains, taking in lovely music with the person I love, feeling the warmth of the sun and the comfort of the clouds, and watching young children dance.

bluegrass festival
Weekend Pleasant Moment: Hardtimes Bluegrass Festival

I’ve just introduced a few concepts here and have not gone into great detail, but perhaps you also recognize how some of these play out constantly in your mind.  I invite you to alleviate just a little of the suffering in your life by recognizing the themes that play out in your head, constantly contradicting each other.  Don’t judge them; don’t think about the whys or the stories behind them; just make note and move back to the present moment; to the breath, the body, and the feeling of how you and your body are interacting with each moment.