Bring on the emotions (ALL of them)!

Daily Mindfulness Emotions

Yesterday I went to the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, with my sister-in-law and her family.  Yep, there we were all 7 of us well into adulthood, lined up on a Tuesday afternoon in a surprisingly full theater for the movie.  I was eager to go based on the content of the movie.  I’d heard there might be some Mindful undertones.  Have any of you seen the movie?  I would suggest it, whether you have kids, or not.

Joy
Joy, from Disney movies

I bring this up because the movie demonstrated for us, the need for all emotions.  In the movie, we see Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust as they work to help Riley, an 11 year old girl, respond appropriately to life.  Specifically, she's figuring out the changes that come with moving to a different state.  In the beginning the goal is to be happy; to just make happy memories.  Does this sound familiar? We are often tempted to deny some emotions, to try to push them into the basement and lock the door.  We are told its not good form to show sadness or anger.  We may have gleaned from our childhood that it wasn’t appropriate, but now we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.  How many of you have been hard on yourselves in that way?  …  I should be over this (whatever happened).  Why can’t I be happy today?  I should be able to blow off that person and not let them get to me.  I should….

Or my favorite, it’s not ‘professional’ to show these emotions at work.  To be upset about something that didn’t work, or to bring emotions in from our personal life.  Really?  How did work become an island where magically it’s not affected by what we do the other 16 hours of the day?  Is that even possible or realistic during the craziness of life?  Divorce? Death? Sickness? Etc.  There are so many reasons we might be sad , frustrated, or generally upset and knocked off our center.

Anger, from Disney movies
Anger, from Disney movies

I’d like to introduce the concept to you that all emotions are a part of us.  If we try to bury sadness in the basement, chances are when she does get to come out she’s way sadder than if she’d been allowed to express that emotion appropriately all along.  How often do we hold in our anger, never letting it show and then when it does bang its way through the basement door – Wow!  Watch out!  The reality of most situations is they require a variety of emotions.  Emotions like sadness allow us to really accept what has happened and it also connects us to other human beings by letting us feel empathy and compassion.  Also, the reality is all memories aren’t clearly tied to happy, sad, angry, etc.

I’ll give you a big example, but there are many reasons why we need all emotions that happen every day.  Eight years ago this week a dear friend died.  I remember that feeling of being overwhelmed with grief and sadness.  Asking over and over again, “how?”  “why?”.  It was easy to feel like I should be over it by now.  I’m a leader in my profession; I should be going into work not affected by this tragedy.  But these many years later I see all the ways the combination of emotions left memories I’ll have forever.  A year doesn’t go by without my husband and I remembering that loss and wandering how life would have been different without it.  But we also remember the way that group of friends connected through the grief.  The memories of one moment feeling nothing but a heavy weight and the next laughing until we cried as we reviewed the good times out loud.  Today, those memories are all tinged with the sadness we felt; the comfort of being together; the empathy and compassion others showed me; and the joyful memories we all shared and continued to build for years afterward.

Mindfulness isn’t about banishing emotions, thoughts, or feelings.  It’s about allowing them all to be and investigating, without holding onto them.  Investigating them in the present moment and asking questions like, “how does this feel in my body?”, while letting go of the story behind.  Letting go of the what ifs, the I should haves, the not fairs.  Just accepting and acknowledging the feeling as it is right now.  Not holding onto the feeling longer than necessary, but also recognizing its importance in this moment.  Today I invite you to open the basement door and leave it unlocked; to accept all emotions as necessary to our continued meandering on this life path. By taking away the stigma on certain emotions, we take away a little of their power to hold us in their grip for longer than necessary.

Joy, Fear, Anger, Envy, and Sadness from "Inside Out". Image from chicagonow.com.
Joy, Fear, Anger, Envy, and Sadness from "Inside Out". Image from chicagonow.com.

A Moment in the Garden

Daily Mindfulness Inspiration

This morning I stopped moving.  I realized I was feeling anxious and starting to let my thoughts spin. Guests leaving, more guests coming tonight, and a party to throw this weekend.  Where is that to-do list?!!?

So I stopped.  Christine, what would you tell someone to do?  It’s time to follow your own advice…

I have 20 minutes.  What can I do to calm my system?  What can I do to gain perspective?  I could meditate, but is there something I can do and still be available to my guests?  The gardens!  I walked down to the shed and as soon as I put on the gardening gloves and grabbed my weed bucket, I felt my breath change gears.  I went up to the patio and dropped to my knees; the breath goes down another notch.  I carefully insert my hand weeder in-between the bricks to widen them a bit and pull out a week….another notch of calm.

Methodically I move, one weed then the next.

I feel the warm sun on my back.

The breeze moves my hair, still wet from a shower.

I smell the ripe strawberries next to where I am working.Orange Iris

I look just in front of me, only to the next weed.

I hear the symphony around me,

Someone is in the kitchen rinsing a dish;

The meadowlark sings loudly from the top of the house;

The Lilly leaves rustle;

A plane flies far overhead;

A bee finds a pansy near me.

I feel,

My shoulders relax down my back;

My knees against the knee pad;

The bend in my toes.

I feel my shoulders relax.

Just a few short moments and I go back to the to-do list.  Hours later my gardening tools are still on the patio and my shoulders are still relaxed and a few things are crossed off the list.

Today I remembered. It’s a small victory and maybe tomorrow I don’t remember to stop and feel what’s happening inside, but each time I do I start to build that memory.  If you want to start building that ability to hesitate when you feel stress coming, remember STOP.

S – Stop what you are doing.  Hesitate.
T – Take a breath.  Follow your breath in and out.
O- Observe how you feel.  What’s going on in your body, with your mind and emotions?
P – Proceed and make it a conscious decision. Continue reading

Hello Old Friend…

Daily Mindfulness Thoughts

On a recent night I was lying in bed and all of a sudden I realized I was giving speeches in my head.  Perhaps you know the syndrome, you wish you’d said, or handled, something different so you spend long amounts of time preparing what would have been the perfect response.  That used to be common for me in my previous jobs; it’s not my norm anymore.  Now, I’m more likely to make speeches in the future.  Preparing how I will handle certain situations or upcoming visits with people that challenge me.  This is just an example of one of the habits I've let my mind get into over the years.  Through my mindfulness practices and meditation and staying alert to what is happening in the moment within my mind and body, I’m becoming more and more aware of these habits.  I’m realizing these habits usually cause me more stress about a past or upcoming situation, instead of preparing me for the situations.

coffee cup
Credit to David Mao-Unsplash

Now that I recognize these habits, I usually catch myself much faster, and spend less time standing on my internal podium.  Like the other night, I caught myself early, smiled internally, and redirected my mind back to the breath so I could go to sleep.  But sometimes my mind is tricky and it goes there via a different route.  In these cases, I can still be pretty far into my speech, before I’m like – “Hey, wait up!  You already prepared for that and it’s going to go fine.” Or, perhaps I have to remind myself, “Christine, you are preparing for a situation that you made up and probably will never happen.”  I chuckle internally, as if at an old joke, and move on.

Ideally, by practicing to be in the present moment, to really see what this moment is like … now this moment … now this moment, we spend less time in the past or future and more time in the present.  You might think, but I have things to plan for, I've got to always be thinking about what’s coming so I don’t miss anything.  Well, maybe you do need to make your to do list every day or once a week, so nothing gets missed. I do this; I've found I really enjoy the Bullet Journal method of keeping track of my thoughts, notes, and to-do’s.  It works for me.  But once the to-do list is made then I don’t need to relive it constantly.

There are many benefits to this practice of living in the now, but I’ll mention two specific benefits that I am noticing.  First, I’m amazed at the time I save!  By focusing on the one thing I’m doing, I actually get it done faster and move on to the next item on the list.  I’m more apt to actually get to the bottom of my to-do list.  Note, this doesn't stop me from putting too much on the list to begin with – that’s another issue…

Also, by focusing more on the present and less on the future and the past, I have less stress.  Things can happen that cause us stress, right now, but usually the overwhelming stress that many Westerners live with on a daily basis comes from worrying about things that happened in the past or things that might happen in the future.  For example: Picture yourself home after a long day making dinner.  Are you just making dinner and interacting with the kids or other people in the house in that present moment?  Or, are you thinking about everything you left on your desk undone, and how are you ever going to get stat stuff done when you have that big meeting tomorrow - which you still have to prepare for tonight after you put the kids to bed.  Then you move to hoping the kids go to bed easy, so you can get back to your computer.  You've already skipped over those precious few hours you have with your family each day and dismissed them.  If this scenario doesn't work for you, I’m sure you can think of something similar, such as, a time you've spent with friends thinking about where else you think you ‘should’ be.

Echinacea
Echinacea from my gardens - so bright!

My clients often hear me talk about the dangers of ‘shoulding’ ourselves.  You should be further in your career by now.  You should spend more time with your husband, kids, and friends.  You should eat healthier.  You should respond in a nicer way to people at work.  You should….  Oh – I was an expert ‘shoulder’ in my time… and… I’m not totally over my ‘shoulding’ habit.  But, slowly it seems to happen less and less and it helps to have made it a funny thing.  “Oh, there you go again Christine ‘shoulding’ yourself.”   Don’t worry, ‘shoulding’ is just another habit, and like giving speeches in our head, or living in the past or the future, we can retrain our mind to think in other ways.

As you begin to spend more time in the present, watch for the colors to get brighter and your surroundings to get warmer.  Watch for the people around you to smile more as they begin returning your own smiles.  But most importantly, remember as you begin to recognize the habits that aren't serving you, to do so with humor and kindness.  In these cases, a smile of recognition, like that you’d give an old friend, is more helpful than a punch in the arm. By looking at our habits with kindness and curiosity, we are more willing to recognize where we’d like to see change happen.  When we just look at them judgmentally, it hurts and makes us feel bad about ourselves, so we are less likely to spend time with it and actually acknowledge when it happens.  Only by knowing when our mind is going someplace that isn't useful, can we make the decision to change it’s direction.

Any mind habits, you’d like to retrain and treat as an old friend, instead of a constant companion?