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/

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.

Finding Our Pause

Daily Mindfulness Thoughts Uncategorized

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

Transition Moments
Transition Moments

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

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

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

calm water picture
Spa Moments

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

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

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

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.

Watching the Mind Settle

Daily Mindfulness Inspiration Thoughts

This past weekend my husband and I went on a much anticipated short backpacking trip; only 18 miles in three days, in the Anaconda Pintler mountains. It was a wonderful trip filled with calm, high mountain lakes, silent companionship, waterfalls, and long walks through evergreen and deciduous forests.  Nature has a way of teaching us lessons that apply to our everyday life.  I came away from this trip reminded of some lessons it has taught me over and over again, but that I somehow forget in-between trips.  But, the most important thing nature did for me on this trip was give me a personal viewing into the workings of my mind.  It can be hard for us to nonjudgmentally settle enough to really just watch what is going on in the mind.  Even when doing a Mindfulness of Thought meditation practice, it’s easy to get caught up in the judgement of thought.  But here I will tell you the story of my mind on the first day of our trip. A mind that was lulled by the combination of nature and walking meditation.  It was fascinating.

Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake made a perfect lunch, fly fishing spot.

One might think otherwise, but swinging that pack around and up onto my back felt good.  It felt familiar and comfortable.  We checked in at the trailhead and began putting one foot in front of the other headed down the trail.  I’d read the info on the trail and I knew it was 6 miles to where we hoped to camp that night and I knew it was mostly uphill.  But that was to be expected, how else do you get into the good stuff?  The high mountain lakes with the views?

Upper Phyllis Lake
Christine at Upper Phyllis Lake.

It’s been two years since our last backpacking trip.  We’ve hiked and car camped, but it’s not the same.  Thirty pounds doesn’t seem like much, but it changes your gate, affects your every move, and there is something about fitting everything you need in that pack.  It feels good – like your leaving the weight of life, job, worries, house, all that stuff behind and only moving forward with the essentials.

Then there’s the simple fact that it’s nature.  With each step down the trail as you get further away from your vehicle, it surrounds you, envelopes you.  I’ve always known it’s good for me and I’ve viscerally missed it these last 2 years.  I’ve always felt like it resets my mind and body.

Old Burn area
We walked through a wonderful old burn area, where the trees are bare showing thru the blue sky, but the underbrush is far from bare. It is growing fast with little trees, bushes, and fireweed flowers.

Body wise, it hurts. My only advice is go out for as long as possible.  Three days isn’t enough for the hips, knees, and shoulders to stop being angry at you.  Trust me, I’ve had long conversations with these body parts during hikes.  But, sometime between day 5 and day 7 my body decides, “Well, she’s not stopping.” And it goes into survival mode.  I’m a fan of survival mode because it usually involves the hips, right where that hip belt is cinched around me, going numb.  As I say that, perhaps it's not very nice for me to wish a part of my body to go numb - doesn't sound very mindful...  But it's good for me to be aware, that is how my body in that location has chosen to deal with the hip belt.  Sometime after day 10, the body rests in strength. With the knowledge of what you are doing a whole new trust in yourself and your body arises and settles calmly over you.  This confidence and trust in self carries over into the non-backpacking world with a quiet strength.

The mind – backpacking is an interesting exercise for the mind.  It eventually takes a rest.  It realizes life is simple.  It’s about eating, walking and sleeping.  In between there are activities like pumping water, watching for animals, setting up and taking down shelter every day, and basic, very basic, cleanliness.  This calming of the mind has always just eventually happened for me.  I count on it, but don’t pay much attention to how or when it happens.  The fact that it’s been two years since I hit the trail and in those two years my meditation and mindfulness practice has hit a whole new level, added new awareness to this trip.  It made the mind part of this trip especially interesting.

It was like being in the front row of a movie about someone that couldn’t let go and that someone was my mind.  The mind relaxed and settled into the breath and the body fairly quickly. It recognized the practice of a walking meditation. But all of a sudden it was like, “Wait! We need to be thinking about something!  It’s the middle of the day on a Friday, we can’t just be walking!” and I’d start thinking about news, politics, upsetting things going on in the world, etc.  A few times I initiated a conversation about these things with Joe.  But each time, with one foot in front of the other, the mind would be lulled into present moment calm again.  Then like a two year old who is resisting sleep with everything he has, the mind would raise its head and come roaring back.  “Oh you should think about the visit to your parents, or an upcoming training, or what you could have done differently in a client meeting last week, or …”  But each time there would be longer periods of breath and body, in between delirious periods of grasping for thought, grasping for the outside world, the past and the future.

Coffee Views
Not a bad view as we drank our coffee.

Finally the mind realized it could settle.  Nothing bad would happen.  Settling didn’t mean it, ‘the mind’, wasn’t needed.  We still needed to be aware of dangers as we walked.  We had to pay attention so we didn’t trip over roots and rocks or fall off the edge of the trail.  Being me – my mind knew that was a distinct possibility!  We had to listen for noises and identify the harmless coo’s of the Ruffed Grouse as different from the noises of a bear moving through the woods.  We paid attention to the different tracks and signs of deer, elk, moose, and bear, so we were aware of our surroundings.  It was as if with each step, I connected a little more with the earth and became a part of my surroundings, a part of the present moment along with the Ponderosa Pines, Spruce, and Tamarak trees; along with the Huckleberry and other bushes beginning to fade into shades of yellows, oranges, and reds; and along with the last wilting Indian Paintbrush, Bluebell, and Aster flowers.

This ability to really watch my mind as if it were separate, with no judgement - although I admit to mild amusement at times - this was really special.

Tamarak Larch Trees
The yellow trees in this picture are Tamarak Larch trees. They have needles but shed them every fall.

For some of my clients, I’ve encouraged you to really give walking meditation a try for this exact reason, it seems that by entering into meditation with the body, the mind follows a little easier.  Even if you can’t find a trailhead this week, I encourage you to take a walk out to your garden or through a local park and just put one foot in front of the other. Connect with your breath and bring your attention into your feet and legs.  From that vantage point allow thoughts to pass by as if they were the clouds above you and just keep bringing your attention back to your feet and your breath.  Allow yourself to be taken in by the nature around you.  Stop to appreciate a tree beginning to change into fall colors or the rough bark of the tree.  Stop to use your senses and smell the earth, whether damp or dry.  Allow the symphony of sound around you to enter your conscious, with no need to identify, hear the different bird songs and the breeze as it moves through the trees and grasses.  Feel your shoulders release back and down into your back and feel yourself relax more deeply into the earth with each step.

For those that are interested, I’ve recorded a short Walking Meditation for Beginners guided audio that you can use to get the feel for what a walking meditation might be like.  You can find it here, under Resources/Guided Meditations on this website. Scroll down to Walking Meditation.  After listening to it and practicing, take your practice outside! Let me know what piece of nature you took in this week.

Recognizing Our Storylines and Choosing To Change Them

Daily Mindfulness Inspiration Self Compassion Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contentment and Discontentment – At the same time…

Daily Mindfulness Thoughts

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

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

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

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

flowers
Weekend Pleasant Moment: Flowers picked from my garden.

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

bluegrass festival
Weekend Pleasant Moment: Hardtimes Bluegrass Festival

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

Hello Old Friend…

Daily Mindfulness Thoughts

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

coffee cup
Credit to David Mao-Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Echinacea
Echinacea from my gardens - so bright!

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

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

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

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.