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

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.

Silent Retreat Musings

Inspiration retreats

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

View upon arrival
View upon arrival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning Starting at 8 AM

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

Afternoon 12 PM

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

Evening 5 PM

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

Goals:

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

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

What did I learn?

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

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

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

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.

The Comfort of Feeling Heard

Everyday Mindfulness Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognizing Our Storylines and Choosing To Change Them

Daily Mindfulness Inspiration Self Compassion Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

“This” – is all I need.

Inspiration

We spend our days moving from one item to the next.  Never believing we have enough time, enough health, enough money, enough love, etc.   Today’s message is simple. We have all we need and we always have enough to give.  I invite you to watch this beautiful short video and then to take a couple minutes to remember how much you have.  Take a deep breath and feel grateful for the time, the money, the health, and the love that you have in your everyday life.   Then take the time to smile at or help someone who may need just a little more support in their own lives.

Video link: http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=4921
This video is found on www.karmatube.org and it was highlighted by Daily Good.