As a white person who does hope this is a tipping point for racial justice for our country, I am determined to stay involved and active. I want to learn and study and grow. That said, it is easy to feel overwhelmed at everything we don’t know or should do. Overwhelm isn't a bad thing, it can mean we are pushing our boundaries and are outside of our comfort zone, but if that overwhelm encourages us to give up, then it's not useful. We have to listen , read, and watch uncomfortable stories and conversations to be able to understand the suffering of others and to change it.
I’ve recorded this short reflective meditation to support anyone who is actively involved and wants to stay there. Whether it be with racial justice, environmental protection, support of healthcare and other essential workers during this pandemic, large organizational change, or whatever cause is near and dear to your heart. Instead of letting it overwhelm us, let’s stay strong and keep fighting.
How do we hold the energy for grief and action, while at the same time not shutting out the curiosity, joy, and connection that feed and refuel us?
I believe, one way is to purposely, regularly check-in. This is a brief, 5 1/2 min, meditation that I hope will act as a tool to support us in doing just this! It will support us in maintaining some connection to the grounding aspects of our life, while at the same time developing active involvement in societal and organizational change.
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.
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.
Holiday.... just the word conjures up a picture of twinkly lights, joy, gratefulness, and sweets. Or that’s what the media tells us anyway. The reality is the holidays are a very hard time for people. There are the people who feel alone the rest of the year and the realization that they don’t have the friends or family they desire around them, for whatever reason, is even worse at the holidays; or, there are those people who have lost loved ones, whether this year or in the past, this time of year brings that loss into focus acutely; or, there are the many people struggling through illness, loss of work, or another personal tragedy. Then there are just the vast majority of people who live always busy between work, family, and any bit of fun time they can carve out and all of a sudden this season comes around where they are supposed to have extra time set aside for joyful gatherings of friends and family, time for baking, shopping, present wrapping, and more. Where is that time supposed to come from? Wouldn’t it be nice if our days came with an extra hour between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? It’s no wonder people get tired over the holidays as they cope with the lack of sleep, increased stress, the darkest time of the year, and the extra rich food and drink.
How do we work with this time of year in the kindest way possible? I suggest a focus on self-compassion, awareness, and connection.
I felt driven to write this blog post as the majority of people that hug me and say Happy Holidays seem to have an underlying sadness about them or they have a deer in the headlights look that says, “I’m nowhere near done buying and wrapping presents, my kids are off school starting next week, and I haven’t done any decorating or cookie baking – I’m so behind!”
One of the most important things we can do is to realize we aren’t alone. While we are made to feel like everyone else is happy and has all the time in the world to put up lights and bake cookies. It’s not true. You are not alone. There are others struggling in the same way you are struggling. I invite you to
Talk about your loved ones who are no longer with you and ask others about the people they wished were still sitting around their tree.
Acknowledge sadness or fatigue when you feel it.
Let people know you feel overwhelmed or tired. I bet most say, ME TOO!
To practice self-compassion, I invite you to be aware. What are you feeling? If you are feeling grateful, happy, or joyful, that is excellent. Now that you are aware of it, enjoy that feeling in your body! But, if you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, or anxious more than grateful and happy, just make note. Try not to judge yourself. Let yourself know. “This is normal. Many people feel this way. It’s a hard time of year.” Then take some time to think, what needs to happen? Do I need to take some things off of my to-do list? Do I need a little silence? Do I need to take care of myself in some specific way; maybe fresh air, exercise, or early to bed tonight?
Here are some additional concrete suggestions for how you might work with the time you have to both care for yourself and take time for the holiday activities that make you happy.
Instead of feeling like you should have more time, I invite you to try to find little bits of joy in the time you already have scheduled.
Do you love to bake, but the reality is you are feeling overwhelmed by it? Acknowledge that feeling; let go of the “should” in what you “should be doing”; and enjoy what you “choose” to do. Maybe you can only make two types cookies, instead of your normal 5 types of cookies, but you can really enjoy taking that time and not feel guilty.
Often during this time of year even those things we enjoy overwhelm us. It’s just too much, whether it’s coffee with friends, playing an instrument at church, etc. We just say “yes” to too much. Think to yourself, can I say “yes” to this request without getting overwhelmed? If the answer is “no” – say no. Another option is to realize that there may be something in-between no and yes. Can you say, “No, I can’t do ____, it’s just too much, but I’d love to ….. help with this other part … or meet you for coffee instead of a whole evening of drinks” You get the idea!
If there are activities that are “must do’s” on your list, try to take some time to make them work for you and possibly change your mind set about them. Again, be aware of things you are dreading. Awareness is always the first step! And then think, “what can I do to make this more enjoyable?”.
For example, make a cup of tea or hot cocoa and put on some nice music before settling in to do presents.
Stop for a favorite coffee drink, before attacking your present shopping, or maybe even meet up with a friend and shop together! Positive socialization and crossing something off the list! Win!
Do you usually have a holiday gathering, and you still want to do that but can’t imagine prepping all the food? Put the call out for pot luck or ask them to bring something specific. I can guarantee you that while people may honestly enjoy your cooking, they would love to bring something if it means you enjoy the party and they still get to gather.
And finally, keep coming back to the present moment. Enjoy each moment with a friend or grandchild, without wasting it thinking about how overwhelmed you are about tomorrow or the next week. Just take it one moment at a time. This is not easy, but it’s the practice, and it supports our ability to be grateful for our moments instead of just continually overwhelmed about what’s next on the list.
I believe in knowing and living by my values. This November 2016 election has made me realize the importance of this fact for me. But, this isn’t about being Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian. It’s not about the person I would have liked to have as my president. In fact, I believe politics should be less about these things. I would like to see people vote based more on their own ethics and less on who their “party” offers up.
This is about my own values, ethics, and moral code. It’s about my judgement of what’s important in life and the standards to which I hold my own behavior. I feel called to post this information, because I invite people all over to actually sit down and write down their own values. If we don’t articulate them, we can’t follow them.
When I was starting up, someone close to me thought maybe my website should not be about me as much as simply what the business does. I argued that I was the business, and that people needed to know and trust me if they were going to ask me to come teach them Mindfulness, meditation and resiliency. I still believe that, which is why I’m sharing this essay on my blog. It is also applicable here because, it takes a whole lot of Mindfulness to get anywhere close to succeeding some of the time as I work to align my actions and my values.
What I really believe after this election is, if this country has any hope, the answer is not to convince everyone to be on the same political side, but to find common ground in our ethics and moral code. Therefore, I wish to share with you my version of “This I believe”.
I believe in values. I believe in knowing my beliefs and ideals and allowing them to serve as my guidelines in all situations.
I believe that all human beings are interconnected. We rely on each other for food, water, and other necessities, more than we’d like to admit, and we have more in common than we have differences. Every being needs water, food, and love or we don’t do well. It doesn’t matter where we originate, these are the basics.
I believe in listening, without judgement, even though it may be one of the hardest things to do. I know it's the hardest thing I try to do. We will never understand each other without listening.
I believe we are the stewards of this earth. If we don’t maintain it, it won’t be here for future generations. It is our duty to take the environment into consideration with every action we take.
I believe money is not a value. It might be a need, but it shouldn’t be what guides our interactions with each other.
I believe my job in life is to do what I can to support other humans and I believe that I should be doing that in both my work and my personal life.
I believe in hope, even though I don’t always feel it.
I believe our actions should follow our values, whether those are the actions of voting, volunteering, playing, or working. I believe our actions shouldn’t follow random labels we assign to ourselves like liberal, conservative, progressive. Those aren’t labels that demonstrate our values, they are just random words.
I believe this is a big world and we (every single human being) can all succeed and live together. One group doesn’t have to fail, or be put down, for another group to succeed.
I believe it’s my duty to act with kindness toward everyone, because no matter what your skin color, religion, gender, place of birth, sexual preference, or disability may be, we are both human and therefore we are both equally important in this world.
I believe in self-compassion, because it’s hard to keep all of these things in mind every time I speak or act, and sometimes I fail miserably (as most humans do); but, there is nothing more important for me than how I attempt to live my life every day.
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 ______”.
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.
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.