Who’s The Real Boss Of You?

Who’s The Real Boss Of You?

Everyday Mindfulness Kindness Self Compassion Thoughts

Today I asked my boss if I could take a sun day for gardening.  In winter we take powder days for skiing, seems only logical!  My boss thought that was a good idea.  My boss isn’t perfect, she’s overly judgmental of herself and good at “shoulding(1)” herself; she always tries to do more than is realistically possible; and isn’t great at having the hard conversations that affect her, even though she can listen to others hard conversations all day!  But, I like her. She works hard, always working on improving her abilities and she really cares about me and others.

[Just in case anyone doesn’t know – my boss is me.]
Spring flowers
Spring flowers are so cheerful!

Today, as I was gardening, and actively working on letting go of the guilt of not sitting at my desk, I flashed back to a turning point in my life, a conversation I’ll always remember.  One day when I was running a Distance Education department at a community college and getting my PhD, I sat down to tell my boss that I had to finish writing this dissertation and I wouldn’t be staying past 5 PM until I had finished, I had to make it a priority.  I assured him I’d still get my work done.  I remember clearly the look he gave me filled with kindness and caring, and there was no irony in his voice as he quietly said to me, “I never asked you to stay past 5PM Christine.”  I just took that in.  My husband used to always joke that I expected more of myself than anyone else could possibly expect of me, but this quiet comment from the best mentor and boss I’d ever had struck deep.

This memory made me think about the knowledge I’ve gained about Mindfulness of thought and mind.  There’s a reason I call my mind a trouble maker.  It doesn’t often seem to be on my side, although I know it’s just trying to watch out for me and make sure I don’t forget anything.  And this memory has me contemplating who my boss is these days?  Do I:  A) Let my mind run things without paying much attention to it; or B) Does someone else make my decisions for me; or C) Do I mindfully act and react to each moment thoughtfully?  To be honest, some combination of A and C, but there is more C than there used to be!

These thoughts make me wonder how many of you are in that same boat that I was, creating habits of judging and “shoulding” yourself?  I hope not many.  I’d love to be the only one!  Do you expect more of yourself than you expect of others?  Is your mind always busy reminding you what you “should” be doing or what you aren’t doing well enough?

View
A reminder to look up from weeding.

Does anyone really care if I choose to pull weeds all day in the sun when I don’t have meetings today and I’m not missing anything?  No, and yet there’s guilt to work through, to acknowledge.  In Mindfulness we just keep trying to be aware and curious about each moment.  Paying attention to our mind, and noticing without judgment, what the mind is doing.  After spending so much of my life creating these patterns, I don’t expect them to magically disappear, but it’s nice to recognize them sooner rather than later, to laugh at myself or at the least give myself that little internal smile, and follow the exhale, letting go of the tension and returning my attention to whatever I’m choosing to do in that moment.  And, sometimes I have to return and do that over and over again, before it takes hold, but it’s better than beating myself up for a whole day and not even realizing I’m doing it!

I invite you to think about this.  What are the areas of your life where you forget to notice the joy, or where you forget to realize the next moment is your decision?  Are you pushing harder and faster for yourself, or someone else, without taking in your accomplishments and the days around you?  Of course I know that many really do have a boss, but taking this thought in, is your own internal boss harder on you than your work boss ever could be?

I invite you to continuously ask yourself, “What’s happening now?”  My answer this morning, “Ah, judging myself instead of finding joy in this miraculous, sunny day without trainings or meetings.  Good to know!”

(1) – Definition: Shoulding, (verb) To continuously tell yourself that you should be doing something else, something more.

A picture of view and shadows.
Evening light in the mountains.

My 2016 Wish For The World

Everyday Mindfulness Inspiration Kindness

I hope you’ll allow me to begin 2016 out on a serious note.

There are things happening in the world, in this country, which sadden me greatly.  This need many have to hate, to view other people by their political views, religious beliefs, culture, or color and to judge them outright without knowing them, to determine they are the “other side” and therefore not worthy.  I am of the view that most of the hate stems from people who practice seeing other people as the “other side”, instead of fellow humans.  We are faced with this every day in the news through shootings, war, and violence that takes many forms.  Just the other day, I saw an example of this in my amazing little town, were someone felt the need to have a huge “Hippie Hater” sticker that covered the whole back window of their truck.  I admit my first reaction to that sticker was aversion and dislike, and my second reaction was sadness.  The question of “why” just hung in the air.

Why do we feel the need to hate other people?

Why do we need everyone to be like us?why

Why do we automatically fear people that are different from us?

Why can’t all types of people, just be?  Is the hippie hurting the cowboy hat wearing rancher – or vice versa?  Please note, this is an example taken from that one instance.  I know many, many cowboy hat wearing ranchers that are awesome, open minded people.

Instead of being disdainful of someone else’s views, why can’t we find it interesting that the person at the next table thinks a different way and just have a conversation about why they think that way?  It wouldn’t mean we had to change our mind, but it would mean that we had some respect for that person’s take on life; some understanding that we are all raised differently and have had different experiences that shape us; some regard for the fact that through our actions, our speech, and our stickers we are passing this hate on to our kids and we are hurting other innocent children.  What happens when a child sees that sticker and realizes his parents may be considered hippies, and begins to feel fear, begins to understand that for no specific reason this person could cause him or his family harm?  That's the beginning of raising someone that knows fear and then begins to hate...

This morning I was reading a story on Nelson Mandela from Daily Good, and in it they were talking about what made him a lifelong learner and how he learned from others.  Dr. Peter Rule researched Mandela and he determined that dialogue with others was crucial for Mandela.  He says, “A striking thing about Nelson Mandela’s story is how he refused to dehumanise ‘the other’. Whether the person was an opponent or enemy – even prison wardens or Afrikaner politicians – he insisted on seeing ‘the other’ as a person who he could acknowledge, understand, interact with and learn from.

It is a dangerous path of hate this world is following.  We must figure out a way to stop dehumanizing each other.  Even if what we learn is that we fundamentally disagree with someone, they are still a person and perhaps by talking to them we’ve clarified why we disagree with their viewpoint, while still understanding why they have that viewpoint.

This week I’ve had another reminder of how life is too short and very precious.  A reminder of how important it is to live each moment.  It makes me wonder why some think their life is any more important than someone else’s.  It makes me wonder why we’d waste our moments on fear, hatred, and dislike.

Each of us has one life.  My wish for the world is that in this one life we realize:

  • Hate is a wasted sentiment.
  • As humans we are more alike than not.
  • It doesn’t matter what our views are, we all want to be happy.
  • We all want our family and friends to be happy and healthy.
  • We all feel pain and fear.
  • Causing pain and fear are never the way to happiness.
  • But, most of all I hope people start to realize that we create our own fear.    The “other” people we are scared of aren’t causing that fear; our view of those people is causing the fear.

If there is to be any hope, we must start to treat every human as an individual, a person to be respected, someone who deserves a smile and a little understanding, someone who has as much right to happiness as we do.

to do: respect for others

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?

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.

An Invite To Welcome Uncomfortable Situations

Everyday Mindfulness Inspiration Mindfulness Practice

Yesterday I returned from my fourth trip to San Francisco in a year.  I've been completing a Mindfulness Teacher Training through The Mindfulness Institute and this was my final trip for the training.  The training was perfect.  The teachers were brilliant, yet accessible.  My peers in the training were inspirational and supportive.  The content was thorough and detailed.  We were able to really gain a complete body of knowledge surrounding the history of Mindfulness, while continually practicing the reason we were there - actually teaching the content and supporting our students.  But this blog post isn't about my love for Mindfulness, which if you've been following me is evident.  It's about the benefit  in life to regularly putting ourselves in slightly uncomfortable situations.

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge _ Taken August 2014

It's been a pleasure to spend so much time in downtown San Francisco among the wonderful restaurants, beautiful houses, parks and flowers, and the diversity that comes with a great city, such as San Fran.  Throughout this blog post you can see some of the pictures from my lunch time wanderings around the Hayes Valley and Mission areas of town.  I'm a happy person when I get to wander a hilly city by foot.

But, by spending time in the same area of a town in May, August/September, January, and April within a one year time period one is not only faced with the positives, but also the challenges.

coffee
Amazing pour over coffee, yum!

For example, it's hard to believe what you hear about foggy San Francisco,  as we've only seen sun and beautiful weather.  But that also reminds one of the drought.  I had multiple waitresses tell us this time they no longer serve water without a request, nor do they give refills on water without a request. How does that affect the rest of the nation?  Did you know that California grows 1/3 of our vegetables and 2/3 of our fruits and nuts? That doesn't even touch on the dairy and other food industries.   Did you know it takes 4.9 gallons of water to grow each individual walnut and 1.1 gallons of water to grow each individual almond?  And, you thought walnuts were already expensive!

Also, among the flowers; colorful murals and art; and pour over coffee, ice cream made while you wait, and fresh pressed juice shops; one is face to face with an amazing Flowersamount of homelessness, mental health, and filth.  The need to walk always looking down if you don't want to step in feces or trip over someone is very real.  It's uncomfortable, but a good practice to wrestle with how to show someone kindness or acknowledge another human's existence while still thinking about ones safety, as someone with mental illness randomly yells at the space around them or intercepts you asking for money.

Art
A corner in Hayes Valley.

After my time in this city, I haven't figured out the answer.  I don't know if there is any right way to deal with these inconveniences in life, but I do think it's important to take the time to grapple with them and not ignore their reality.  While they are more noticeable in many large cities, there are less fortunate people in all communities.  Missoula has a large homeless population and I'm proud to live in a town that has open conversations about this issue and is trying hard to find some answers about how to best support this group within our city.

I would argue that most of the war, hatred, and current strife in our world is due to people who forget they are connected to everyone else.  We are all human.  They separate themselves and decide they are different from someone else because of color, religion, background, and most often just plane luck of circumstances.  If each and every person remembered the following things:

  • I am human, and the person on the sidewalk is human;
  • The person on the sidewalk has parents and people that love them just like I do;
    A view from Potrero Hill
    A view from Potrero Hill.
  • That person may have made poor choices in life, but the reality is that most of us, if we are honest, have made poor choices at some point in our life and circumstances could be different;
  • Some people choose to be there and some are there because the beds at the shelter are full; or they don't fit within the rules the shelters and services have; or their illnesses weren't identified early enough; or any variety of reasons that boil down to our society is failing them.

Perhaps if we each remembered these things, then we could begin to have real conversations about treating all human beings, no matter their circumstances, with kindness and understanding.  I invite you to become a part of this conversation in your community or at the very least, when you walk by someone that makes you cringe, think to yourself, "May that person be happy and healthy."  If nothing else, the one thing we can do is begin to silently work on our own prejudices and assumptions.

Houses
Painted Lady Houses across from Alamo Square.

Anger and the hold it has on us.

Everyday Mindfulness Hindrances Thoughts

I have a friend holding onto discontentment and anger.  It’s hard to watch, as he won’t let anyone in and is slowly, through treating others poorly, disintegrating the love and respect others had for him.  This has been his attitude of choice for so many months now that he may not even know why he feels this resistance to his current life or is stuck in this thinking cycle of irritation, anger, resistance, and discontent.  It’s become a habit he holds onto.

Have you ever silod yourself to the point where you feel alone and seperate from everyone? Angry that you are alone? Angry that you don't know how you got there?
Have you ever silo'd yourself to the point where you feel alone and separate from everyone? Angry that you are alone? Angry that you don't know how you got there?

Any state of mind can become a habit and the more we let our mind dwell in these places, the more the mind spins stories that support our feelings.  Our mind loves to take things that happen every day and tell us why “it’s not fair” or why "that person isn't treating us right”.  The mind creates whole stories that haven’t even happened yet and probably won’t happen, "what if's".  We listen to these stories, as truths; we begin to think of everything that happens in terms of ‘us versus them’; and we begin to have an aversion to everything.  We push anything that happens away.  We don’t see the good and just see everything as unpleasant.  Since we don’t want the unpleasant stuff, it continues to support our mistaken belief that we are being robbed of the good life.  Because of this mindset, we miss the pleasant moments, as we are too busy mulling over the unpleasant moments.  We forget that life comes with unpleasant, pleasant, and neutral moments but the real gift that we are given is impermanence.  Each moment will eventually pass and another moment will come up.  This is awesome!  We are guaranteed to have more pleasant moments, just like we are guaranteed to have more unpleasant and neutral moments.  If we can begin to accept all the moments and learn from them, we can move through life with less highs and lows and more joy and ease.

The other thing about a state of mind like anger is it’s only hurting us.  In the long run, the people close to us get tired of it and just leave, or stop hanging out with the angry person.  When we get mired in a state of mind like anger, holding onto that anger is like slowly drinking poison that we have poured for our self.  We sink into suffering that nobody has forced us into; we've created that pool of suffering our self.  To try to put this in perspective, imagine there is a hot stove.  We would never put our hand on the hot stove and then hold it there or keep putting it there.  We would say “Oh!  That stove is hot and that hurts, so to avoid the pain, I will not do that again.”  But yet, we let our mind ruminate about thoughts and create stories around events, that cause us pain and we sink into that pain.  Going over and over in our head about how unhappy we are and how it is somebody else’s fault because they wronged us.  These thoughts cause us deep mental pain and often result in physical pain due to the stress and internalization of the anger.

This mental state of resistance, aversion, and anger is one of the five mental states that most hinder our ability to let go of suffering.  These five mental states cause us suffering and prevent us from dealing with situations in a wise and skillful manner.  They hinder our ability to concentrate, make decisions, and act thoughtfully toward others.  The aversion we experience specifically from this mind state of anger, resistance, and discontentment causes our mind to become cloudy and this fog prevents us from seeing clearly.

But, what’s the best thing about a state of mind like anger?  We can change it.  It’s much easier if we change it before we become mired in it, but no matter where someone is stuck in the depths of unhappiness, stress, distress, or anger, that person, with practice and over time, can become happier, calmer, and more joyful.  This is one of the most joyful things we've learned through neuroscience research in recent years.  Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Investigating Healthy Minds has been one of the key researchers in this field.  In addition, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley also does a great job reporting on this research. At the bottom of this post you can find some links to research on the topic.

An important note, sometimes we have chemical disruptions causing these mind states.  When someone is experiencing depression, or some other altered state that they can't see beyond, this should be dealt with through a professional.  After that person has recovered from the depression, that is the time to learn mindfulness. By practicing mindfulness meditation they may be able to assure they don't relapse.  But, if our attitude is just a habit, meaning we've allowed our self to become mired in the hindrance of anger or resentment and because of this we are stuck in that pattern of thought, of speech, and of action, or perhaps we believe that is our nature – then, through conscious, skillful thought we can make a change.

This is where mindfulness comes into the process.  When you recognize that you are working with a hindrance like anger and you've let it suck all positive interaction from your life following are the initial steps to take.  To follow these steps, you must create a new habit of the mind, but it will be worth it! Using anger as our example:

  1. Recognize when anger, resistance, discontentment are present. Take the time to recognize what that mind state is doing to our body, mind, and feelings?  Is your forehead scrunched? Is your stomach in knots?  Is your breathing shallow?  Do you feel put upon?  Do you feel self-righteous?
  2. Recognize when that state of mind is absent and how that feels in your body, mind, and sensations? Perhaps in the beginning there are only small periods like this but recognize the feeling of light and ease?  Perhaps you notice that your throat isn't tight or you notice the beauty of the trees and birds around you?
  3. Recognize what conditions surround the presence or absence of the anger. What triggered it?  By noticing this you can begin to recognize when a trigger is happening and choose to react in another way.

These three steps won’t be easy and the angry person has to be tired of that mind state and the feeling of doom they are bringing on themselves.  But it is possible to change that feeling of doom to a feeling of enjoying life again just by recognizing the damage being done from these stories our mind is telling.  It doesn't happen overnight, but it can happen with practice.

This is the beginning of a 5 part segment on these hindrances that we use to cause self-suffering.  Have you ever had an experience when you recognized you were holding onto anger and you realized that mind state wasn't serving you?  Feel free to share below, if you are willing.  And don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!

 

Resources

Paulson, S., Davidson, R. J., Jha, A., and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Becoming Conscious: the science of mindfulness. http://www.investigatinghealthyminds.org/ScientificPublications/2013/PaulsonBecomingAotNYAoS.pdf

Schaefer, S. M., Morozink Boylan,  J., van Reedum, C. M., Lapate, R. C., Norris, C. J., Ryff, C. D., Davidson, R. J. (2013). Purpose in Life Predicts Better Emotional Recovery from Negative Stimuli http://www.investigatinghealthyminds.org/ScientificPublications/2013/SchaeferPurposePLoSONE.pdf

Nauman. E. (2014). Three Ways Mindfulness Reduces Depression. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_ways_mindfulness_reduces_depression The Greater Good Science Center from the University of California, Berkeley.

A Little Gratitude

Everyday Mindfulness Gratitude Inspiration Mindfulness Practice

Recently a friend had one of those experiences that caused her to find gratitude – if only for a short while.  The kind of experience that caused her to be grateful to walk through the doors of her house without any assistance; grateful for her family and friends; and grateful to be here every minute of the day.  The kind of experience that reminds those around her to be grateful because we never know what’s going to happen from moment to moment or day to day.

Why does it take one of those experiences to remind us how precious every moment of life is for each of us?  To remind us that whether it’s a pleasant moment, an unpleasant moment, or a boring moment it is our life and we should accept it and be thankful.  Why is it much easier to get caught up in life and let day after day go by without really thinking about it?Pink Flower

Researchers are finding gratitude to be a wonderful thing.  It helps us be thankful for the good moments and it actually increases life satisfaction, optimism, and joy and decreases anxiety and depression.  You can find all the details about why Gratitude is good for us on this gratitude page provided by the Greater Good Center at Berkley.  In addition, this Berkley site supports your efforts by providing ideas for how to cultivate gratitude.

As you finish this post, I invite you to sit back in your chair.  To close your eyes and take 3 long deep breaths and then as your breath settles back to its normal exhale and inhale, be grateful for that moment and the things we take for granted in every moment.  Be grateful for your eyes that allowed you to read this post or your ears that allowed you to listen to it.  Be grateful that you woke up this morning and that your normal day filled with acquaintances and loved ones and strangers is all around you.  Add the things you want to be grateful for today.  I invite you to feel gratitude and warmth toward yourself in this very moment.   You may then want to use some of the tips in the Berkley article above to begin cultivating more gratitude into your life, without the need for a life changing experience.

Share with us what you are grateful for today.

Let’s start to practice!

Everyday Mindfulness Mindfulness Practice

To me, Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment with kindness; to be aware of your breath, your body, your sensations, your feelings, your thoughts, and how all of these things are interacting with the outside world.  That said, the practice of Mindfulness, is to continually bring yourself back to this awareness, over and over and over again.  When our mind wanders to what’s next on our to-do list, we bring it back.  When we get caught up in a new sound, we acknowledge that sound and bring our awareness back to our breath, our body in the present moment.

We do all of this with the kindness that we would show to a child as they learned their A, B, C’s.  The first time a child tries to sing his or her A, B, C’s they are going to miss some letters, probably the 20th time they try they might miss some letters, especially when they start doing it on their own without you leading them.  Ideally, we smile; we hug them and tell them they did a good job, while we keep practicing with them.  We don’t give up on the child.  We don’t berate the child for missing F.

That is our mindfulness practice times 1,000.  We’ve spent our whole life allowing our brain to follow any thought it wants, without noting how that that feels in our body or if it’s useful to us at the moment.  That means it’s going to take a long time to retrain ourselves to notice what’s happening and decide to not follow the path on which we find ourself.  Over time we will start to notice when we are wandering beyond the present moment.  But in the meantime, our practice is to actually find that moment where we realize we “aren’t here” and to bring ourselves back.  Don’t groan and think “Again, REALLY again, I was going down that path of worry, or panic, or planning???” Celebrate those moments!  Each and every one!  Instead think, “Yeah!  That was a thought I might have spent hours on before and now I caught it and I’m back enjoying my child in this moment and not worrying about tomorrow.  Woohoo!”  Go ahead, give yourself a fist pump!  Way to go!  Even if it just happened once today that was one more time that you were present than yesterday.

Money Tree

I invite you to lean back from this blog post and look around to find one thing in your room or your house that gives you joy.  Find your breath and follow your inhale and exhale as you take in this thing that gives you joy.  Take note of how this item makes you feel throughout your body.

For me this morning it was the sun pouring through my southern windows.  The site of my plants soaking up that low winter sun with such joy, that I had to just stop, take in the sun myself and take in all of the different shades of green that my Pachira Aquatica (Money Tree) was showing.  I felt such warmth, not only from the sun, but within my heart and head.  I felt thankful for this house with large windows that I love.  I noted that I wished there was more snow outside the window, but then came back to the joy and gratefulness, leaving behind the craving and the to-do list for at least a few moments.

What did you find that gave you joy?  Where you able to spend a few moments focused only on that item and how you related to it in that moment?