Warning: All Conditions Exist

Warning: All Conditions Exist

Mindfulness Practice Uncategorized
Perfect Blue Sky Mountain Day
View from the top of Montana Snowbowl.

Ok, all you non-skiers out there, bear with me.  I promise there is a Mindfulness related point!

Last week, I heard someone talking to a recent addition to our community.  Referring to our ski hill, they said, “well you know, we have all conditions.”  The reference being that skiing isn’t always rosy and perfect on our hill.  It’s not all sunny blue skies, with endless ‘corduroy’ groomed runs, and feet of fluffy snow in the trees and bowls.  My initial reaction was to be protective of our hill, which I love to ski.  And then I laughed at the very absurdity of pointing out that we have all conditions.  Of course we do! Even the large hills in Colorado and Utah have all conditions.  When we used to live in SW Wyoming and ski Utah, they had good years and bad years.  It’s the way of the weather cycles.  On every hill there are days where one is thinking, “Best day ever!”.  And, on every hill there are the days where the snow is hard and wind-blown, or icy, or mixed with dirt and rocks, or just full of thick snow that tweaks the joints with every turn.

Cloudy Mountain Day
Same view during a snow storm.

Why am I making this point?  Because when we think about what “all conditions” means, it makes sense that all hills have all conditions, depending on the year and the weather.  Last year in Montana, we had above average snow pack the whole winter.  Amazing skiing!  But, very few blue-sky days – makes sense as snow comes with clouds!  Other years we’ve had a lot of blue-sky days but average skiing, not as much snowfall.  Or, some years are warmer than others and the skiing is hard and crusty all season.  We don’t get to find and live near that one perfect hill that is always going to be good skiing and blue sky, no matter what is going on in the world around it that utopia doesn’t exist.

We can use this same analogy to make sense of the mind!  Every mind experiences “all conditions”.  Depending on our body, our surroundings, the world around us and a million other factors, we may be experiencing joy, calm, frustration, anger, sadness, happiness, distraction, focus, peace, confidence, fear, confusion, exhaustion, ease, disconnection, and so much more.  Sometimes many of these conditions all happen in one day, and, there may be seasons where one of these conditions is the primary condition.  Perhaps the political climate has us living with an underlying sense of fear for a while; or maybe, a tragedy happened to you personally and for awhile sadness is the main emotion flowing in and out; or for awhile life is good, work is good, there’s lots of blue sky and ease flows through each day.  And yes, some people due to chemical imbalances, health struggles, etc. may lean more toward one ‘mind condition’ for periods of time, or even overall; but, every mind can, and will at some time, experience all conditions.

Just as people who may have spent their life here in Missoula think the skiing is always better elsewhere, it’s easy for us to look around at our friends and our social media pages and think, but that person is always happy, or confident, or content, why can’t I be like that?  But we aren’t alone.  Everyone in their individual way, experiences periods of worry or dissatisfaction.  Most just don’t post about it on Facebook.  Our challenge is to be here for all conditions, not wishing we had some other body, mind, or life that would be different. On the ski hill, I try to be with the blue-sky groomer days as much as the cloudy, can’t see days without desiring a different type of day.   It’s important to note that hard ski conditions are easier to handle than a difficult mind, but that’s my practice.

Off the hill, can I notice when I’m distracted and unfocused, without taking it personally, just notice and move forward thru my day with that piece of information?  Can I notice, “Ah, this is fear?  This tightness in the chest, this furrow in my brow, this desire to hide under the blankets; this is what fear feels like.  Interesting.”  In the next hour when I have coffee with a friend, can I notice, “This is connection. This warmth and openness in the chest, this lightness in my face; this is what connection feels like.”  Just like that old saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.”  Allowing myself to notice when the conditions in my mind change and trusting they will change, often, throughout each day – this is my practice.  Mind conditions may not fully change, for example: from doubt to confidence forever, but the clouds may lighten and the sun shine thru for just a few moments.  Those few moments are worth noticing, so we can begin to see that yes, things will change.  We can begin to look around and notice we aren’t alone.  All minds experience all conditions.

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

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

Daily Mindfulness Emotions Mindfulness Practice Self Compassion Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

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

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

Painted Lady Houses across from Alamo Square.

Changing Unnecessary Suffering

Mindfulness Practice

Today it’s March 12, 2015.  Yesterday as I drove home around 6 PM the temperature was 57 degrees.  I will just say it outright.  I like winter.  I live in Montana because I love all seasons, every single one of them.  But I didn't realize what I liked about winter until I missed it.  Winter is our season of rest and recovery; the time to be kind to ourselves.  It’s the time to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea during long cold, dark evenings and to get lost in a good book or to catch up on sewing and indoor projects we don’t want to do in summer.  It’s the time to nourish ourselves with roasted meats and vegetables and evenings of laughter with friends while sitting around a table.  I admit I feel a bit short changed.  We've had so much warmth and sun since January, I don’t feel like I've fully cocooned and I feel unready for warmth and weeding. But, it doesn't really matter if I’m ready does it – the time is here for both warmth and weeding.

I love skiing.  I was planning for this to be a great ski year, and really it has been I've had a ton of fun skiing and really made an effort to not pass up ski days, even if half have been warm spring days in February.  Just being outside in the fresh air and sun so much has been positive.  But I was thinking about it, I have a lot of things I love to do and I’d never be able to do them all at once, seasons are helpful.  Imagine if all of the following activities had to get fit in at the same time of year: gardening; hiking; sculling; skiing; listening to live music; reading fun books; catching up on sewing projects; and cooking long slow cooked meals for those I love.  No, they need seasons!

This leads us to our theme today, have you noticed through what I’m saying that I’m trying to hold onto something that I have no control over?  I've been very conscious of this grasping lately.  I recognize pretty quickly what I’m doing and laugh at myself and move on.  Then I catch myself, later or the next day, looking at the mountains with sadness as the white retreats or feeling the light panic in my chest as I glance out the window and realize things are growing in the gardens and I have to get out there and trim raspberries and clean up dried plants and grasses.  Again, I smile; I calm my breath and move back to what’s happening right now. In short, I’m causing my own suffering by being unable to accept what each day brings.  By craving something else, I’m creating a suffering, a pull, that doesn't have to be there.  Because of my practice, I’m fully aware of this grasping and I catch it pretty quickly, much more quickly than I did in the past.  Old habits haven’t totally broken yet, but the suffering I’m creating is minimal.

I’m sure all of you have been witness this week to people creating their own suffering.  It is quite amazing to me how much energy people put into hating the time changes in fall and spring.  Have you noticed this?  People are pretty vehement about it.  Perhaps, looking back, you realize you have spent a surprising amount of time grumbling every morning as you feel a bit more tired than usual, or as you realize it’s now dark again when you get up in the morning.  We are 5 days in, have you stopped grumbling yet?  Is it still the first comment you hear when you get to the office?  I was out and about yesterday and heard many grumbly comments about the time change.

It seems to me that the weather is just getting more unpredictable and the time change isn't going away, so imagine, if no matter what the weather brought to us, we just lived in that moment.  What would that look like? What’s happening isn't going to change no matter what our reaction, so perhaps instead of throwing a fit, or grumbling and bringing darkness into our own lives, we took a breath, accepted what that moment brought and moved forward.  Accepting and moving forward can mean, moving forward to create change if it is something we can change, but it starts with accepting the present moment. This is a powerful practice.  It takes time to change habits we've created, but what if just by learning to accept the time change and embrace the light in the evening or whatever changes it brings, you save yourself 2 weeks a year of tired grumpiness.  Woohoo!  That’s 2 weeks returned to you!

The First Sign of Spring 2015

I leave you with these crocuses that I happened by yesterday on the University of Montana campus.  As I walked by them, I stopped and turned and just stared at them.  I bent down to make sure they were real, and then I smiled.  A big smile spread across my face, as I accepted the fate of winter and the beauty of spring.  That was my second sign this week, as Wednesday I heard my first Meadowlark.

In what areas do you often cause yourself suffering by grasping after something over which you have no control?

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?