Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

A recurring theme in much of the reading I’ve been doing lately has been living in the present moment, and, related to that, mindfulness. Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, even Arianna Huffington, all modern teachers of living in the present and mindfulness

I have seen quoted, time and again, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and everywhere, ” if you’re depressed, you’re living in the past, if you’re anxious, you’re living in the future.” The only time in which we actually live, the only time we can actually make a difference and have any impact, is the present. Have you tried to live and think only in the present moment? Even for thirty seconds? Not so easy, is it?

And, so, enters “mindfulness”, the practice of noticing and acknowledging thoughts as they enter your mind, and then, filtering out those that are based in the past, or in the future. More than that, mindfulness also allows us to identify, acknowledge, and hopefully, derail thoughts that are not beneficial; judgmental thoughts, limiting thoughts, comparisons, and self-critical thoughts, among others.

A practice that helps us hone our mindfulness skills is meditation, and one that all the authors above practice, preach, and promote. I’ve been practicing meditation, off and on, for a few years. Lately, though, in an effort to evolve, I’ve been making a daily practice of meditation. Like yoga, meditation is not something that is ever perfected, it is something, always, that is practiced. Even well practiced meditators, Buddhist monks, even the Dalai Lama himself, have days where their meditative practice is more or less fruitful than others.

I remember the first time I ever really tried meditating; first feeling very self-conscious sitting there with my eyes closed, legs crossed, on the floor. Even though I was alone in my room. I didn’t quite know what to do with my hands, I tried them this way, then that way, then another, flopping them around in my lap like a couple of recently landed fish on the shore. I remember trying to empty my mind of thoughts, I remember not being able to empty my mind of thoughts for more than a split second. I remember getting kind of discouraged and not really trying to meditate again for quite a while. Months later, still reading of its benefits, I attempted meditation again. Again, dissatisfaction with my ability.

When I migrated my yoga practice from my living room a la DVD to the gym, a guided meditation became part of my routine with each class. Still, I struggled with the mindfulness part, but, out of peer pressure, at least I remained still and in good meditative form for the duration. Like yoga, with practice, I improved at meditation during class, and even with mindfulness. On one occasion, I became so mindful I almost dozed off.

In my daily practice, at home, or wherever I happen to be, I feel as though I am gaining ground. Of course, I’ve really committed myself to the practice this time around. And, by “committed” I mean I’ve committed in the best way I know how; I’ve spent money. I’ve bought a dozen Kindle books, I’ve downloaded several guided meditation MP3s from iTunes and Amazon, and I even have a whole folder of iPhone apps with different guided meditations and soothing noises. I even went so far as to order myself a “tuffet” and a “dog bed”, though I think the proper terminology for these items is “zafu” and “zabuton”. Now that I’m heavily invested, I am compelled to practice, regularly, or be consumed with guilt every time I trip over my tuffet and matching dog bed on the floor of my room.

By the way, this is an oft-employed strategy of mine for remembering all sorts of things; put something on the floor in the tripping zone as a reminder. If I don’t want to forget something when I run errands or leave on a trip, I make sure it’s on the floor where I can’t help but trip on it. I even taught my son, Dogwood, this trick, and he employs it often. So this isn’t something just for the middle aged and forgetful. Dogwood will remember something he needs to do in the morning, after he’s gone to bed, so he just takes one of the pillows on his bed and throws it in the middle of the floor. The next morning, he sees the pillow and remembers what he’s supposed to do. At my age, though, if I just see a random pillow on the floor, I just get confused. My tripping objects need to be specifically related to what it is I am trying to remember. Just a strategy, in case you’re so mindful and in the present moment, you forget everything else!

Still, with all the equipage, props and practice, I struggle. More than I should, I think. But I’m committed and I just keep trying. A few things I’ve learned, I thought I’d share, in case you’re in the same boat as me.

First of all, “bed-itation” does not work. In “Zen and the Art of Running”, a great book I read earlier this year, the author, Larry Shapiro, PhD, warns of “sleeping hazards” when meditating. For me, that’s just about anything that isn’t rock hard, cold or incredibly noisy. The Dalai Lama, in “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” while speaking at a large event, warns attendees, all 1,500 of them, that they are likely to fall asleep during a group meditation he leads. “In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness,” he recommends, daily, for eight weeks, a forty-five minute guided “body scan” meditation, lying on your back in “a quiet, warm place where you won’t be interrupted by anyone, or by the phone”. I don’t even have to be lying down to fall asleep in a quiet, warm place where I won’t be interrupted! The body scan begins with becoming aware of the breath, then moves to the left, big toe, then up the body to the top of the head. I can usually remain awake for the left big toe. I regain consciousness again at the top of the head. Sometimes. Other times, I don’t regain consciousness until the audio has moved to another track, like rap music. And, yes, I’ve tried the body scan guided meditation in bed. I fell asleep on the second deep breath. Bedi-tation, a sleeping hazard. Hardwood floor offers some success. Be advised.

Another problem I’ve experienced in effective meditation practice; the medi-libation. I usually practice meditation first thing in the morning (bedi-tation), mid- day for a brief spell, if I can, and before bed. Well, sometime between my mid-day meditation, the end of my workday, and dinner, I like to have a beer. After dinner, I like to have a glass, or two, or three, of red wine. Needless to say, my late night meditation is very relaxed. I do not recommend libations any time before or in conjunction with meditation, I did order my zafu and zabuton in wine color, just in case. Now, for insomnia? Medi-libation, in moderation, may be just the thing!

So now that I have a tuffet and a dog bed, I practice my meditation seated, and (reasonably) sober. I am having more success remaining awake. I am still struggling, and probably always will, with mindfulness. I am improving, but I have to be very mindful about being mindful. And, as I mentioned above, I’m in good company, even the monks themselves still practice this for hours and hours each and every day!

So, mindfulness; focusing on the present and being alert and aware of thoughts that enter the mind, then letting them pass like water in a stream. Piece of cake! No, really, among a bazillion other random thoughts, I am likely to picture a piece of cake, then a zebra, then, perhaps, a Tesla Model S P85. I’m likely to think of what to have for dinner, that cute shop in New York City where I saw all those Christian Louboutin shoes, learning to fishing, my next business trip or Disneyland. I also write articles. Every great idea I want to write about begins as an article, drafted in my head, during meditation. I can’t help it. But, I’ve devised a plan.

Every time I catch my mind wandering, I just tell myself “Wait! Wait! Wait!”

WAIT! What Am I Thinking. It’s an acronym, get it? When my mind wanders and I am trying to be still, I tell myself to “wait”, I take notice of what I’m thinking and then let it pass. Mindfulness. Yes.

Tuffet and dog bed
Tuffet and dog bed

WAIT! When Am I Thinking. If I catch myself focusing on any time but the present, I remind myself to “wait”. I can even think about the past, in the future; I plan how I’m going to recount events and circumstances from the past, in a future conversation. And I bet you do too! How “not in the present” is that? Wait! Presence.

Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dogbed)
Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dog bed)

WAIT! Who Am I Thinking. When I catch myself thinking about people, especially if I am thinking judgmentally or am making comparisons, I just have to remind myself to wait.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!
Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

WAIT! Where Am I Thinking. My mind wanders! It’s normal, I know, but as a reminder, when I want to be more focused, I just remind myself to “wait”.

I tell myself to “wait, wait, wait, wait” when I get off track during my meditation practice AND when I catch myself dwelling on past events, future scenarios, limiting, or undesirable thoughts or when I just need to focus and my mind has wandered. It works great! I swear by it! But, be warned, people will look at you a bit askance if you’re shopping for shoes or filling your car up with gas and you suddenly look startled and yell, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! then smile and go peacefully back to what you were doing. This from experience.

So, I guess to sum up my very mindful thoughts, today, I’d have to say, just stop, wait, and listen. Namaste.

 

Scarlett’s Letter Halloween 2013

Trick or treat?

I just returned, late last night, from four fun-filled days in Phoenix at my company’s “User Conference”. This was my fourth User Conference. I’ve been with the company for five years and some months. I remember feeling so left out and overlooked that first year, not being selected to go to User Conference. All the veterans just rolled their eyes and said, “ugh, consider yourself lucky.” After my first User Conference, the very next year, I totally understood. From about 7:00 AM every morning until about 11:00 PM every night, being “on” and “customer facing”. Towing the company line. Exhausting. Trick.

I am exhausted, though, I will admit, this was, by far, the best (for me) User Conference. Ever. I am still exhausted. Today was a day of adjustment; one of making my own decisions as to when to be where to do exactly what, well, sort of what, I wanted to do, rather than following a tightly scripted schedule, which, by the way, was to be worn around my neck along with a lime green lanyard, with my name tag and a large, garish button that said “How Can I Help You?” Kill me. Yes, today, I still had work to do; emails to answer, expense reports to complete (or so an email marked “URGENT !!!! said), and travel to arrange, then rearrange. Trick.

My goals for the day included 1) sleeping until I awoke, without the aid of an alarm, 2) running six miles, preferably with energy and enthusiasm, 3) attending to two personal matters that HAD to be dealt with today, one involving online research and a phone call, the second involving a trip to the courthouse, and 4) attending a wine club “members only” Halloween Party for free wine tasting, fun and debauchery. Treat.

On point number 1; the street out front appears to be done. The City of Napa has been replacing sidewalks and gutters where the tree roots of the nearly fifty-year-old Chinese Pistachio trees have leavened them like an angel food cake. For whatever reason, the tractors and jack hammers and dump trucks and loud men all begin work, in front of my house, where the work appears to be “done”, in a residential area, at some time before 7:00 AM. And, my luck, it’s fucking Thursday, and today is the only day, for months to come, that I have any hope of sleeping in past 7:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time. Thursday is “garbage day”, which actually means the garbage trucks, an entire fleet of them, arrive at 6:00 AM, or so, and start groaning and slamming through the streets, dumping everyone’s discards into their cavernous guts with an alarming racket. Cross point number one off my list as pointless and futile. Happy Halloween, I AM the walking dead. Trick.

Number 2; run six miles. I slip out of bed like “The Ooze”, rummage through my perpetually packed suitcase for my beloved slippers and somehow navigate downstairs and manage to fix a fairly nutritious and almost delicious breakfast in spite of the fact I haven’t grocery shopped in weeks and wont’, because I’m on the road, again, next week. And the next. And the next. And the next. Until nearly Christmas. Mom joins me and we begin her favorite game; devils advocate. Happy Halloween! The devil is here, ready to respond to everything I say with some sort of point, counterpoint or possible argument. I’m tired. I don’t want to play. I can debate with anyone, I can defend my strongly held convictions and deeply rooted beliefs with anyone, almost anytime. Just not today. I feel challenged and defensive and exhausted I just want to … go upstairs and answer mind-numbing work emails on topics like Microsoft Word headers not functioning correctly in our workpaper manager software. Kill me. But I do this for an hour, until the URGENT !!! email comes in that says we HAVE TO HAVE our October expenses in by EOB (end of business) today. Well. Okay. I will take the two hours to complete a tedious and uncooperative online form, attaching images of receipts for every expense, no matter the triviality of the expense, so my company can reimburse me for all the credit card charges I’ve incurred and must, personally, pay, for my extensive travel. Twist my arm. It’s the tedium of the process that almost makes me say “f” it, I’ll just cover it out of pocket. But I don’t’. And by now it’s 1:00 PM. And I’m still in my pajamas, drinking cold, weak, bitter, black coffee. I’m in sweats, actually, that’s what I sleep in when I’m not with my Sweetie. I could, by today’s standards, go to the grocery store, the bank, a college campus, a restaurant, shopping, I could take an airline flight, in what I’m wearing; grotesquely baggy sweatpants, slippers and my boyfriend’s thermal t-shirt advertising a brewery in Fairbanks, Alaska. But I’m old school. I usually shower and get dressed before leaving the house. Hell, I usually shower and dress even if I don’t leave the house. I have some self-respect. Normally. Trick? Treat? Trick, I guess.

Finally, because I can’t stand myself anymore, I go and put my running tights and jersey on, lace up my shoes, pull my hair into a tight pony tail which I pull through the hole in the back of my running hat. I fill my bladder bag and strap on my Garmin watch. I answer another email, finish another expense report and decide I’d better have lunch before running. I’m out of fuel. Breakfast was hours ago. I find a frozen stuffed pepper in my freezer, reheat it, eat it, brush my teeth and head for the car. I run my “usual” six-mile loop and it’s like I haven’t run in years! All I can think about is the next walk break. I run for five minutes and walk for one, at a pace ranging from eleven minutes per mile to twelve minutes per mile. I’m old. I’m tired. That’s what I do. Right now, with about four weeks to go until my first full marathon, I just want to pile on miles and not hurt myself. I could care less about speed right now. I just want to finish. And live. But I don’t feel like I can finish six miles, alive, today. I guess you could say that today, I finished my first “zombie run”, except it wasn’t a race with energetic participants in gory costumes, it was me, lurching along like Frankenstein, for six, long, miles. Treat, actually. The sense of accomplishment made it all worthwhile.

I make it home, stinky, sweaty and even more tired, and it’s after 3:00 PM. I’ve taken care of the one point of personal business, on the phone, but I still have to go to the courthouse. And they close at 4:00. I wouldn’t be caught dead at the courthouse in my baggy sweats and my boyfriend’s shirt, but I’ll go sweaty and stinky in Lycra running pants! It was my only choice, there was no time for unpacking all my shower stuff and makeup stuff and hairdryers and straightening irons and curling irons and then showering and then employing all said items in order to look human. It’s Halloween! This is my costume! Living Dead in Lycra! Scary! Right? Treat, I guess; it’s a glass half full perspective.

I get my business done, fairly quickly. I only had to wait in line behind one person, a tiny and very young lady, who was attempting to complete papers to file for divorce from her husband, Stephen, the father of her child. How do I know it’s “Stephen” with a “ph” and not “Steven” with a “v”? Am I that assumptive? No, she has “Stephen”, with a “ph” tattooed, painfully, I’m sure, on the top of her foot. And socks are so not in fashion with skinny jeans and flats! I didn’t want to tap her on the shoulder and say, “honey, it’s almost November, boots are cool, if you want to cover up that “Stephen” of yours.” Um, trick?

Home. And, damn, I’m hungry again. I fix dinner and tell Mom about my plans for my costume for the wine club, free wine-tasting, costume party. A gypsy. I can wear my favorite super comfy skirt, a little more makeup than usual, a few scarves tied around my waist like a sash, all the jewelry I own, and offer to read people’s palms! She suggests I wear her clown outfit with the red, curly wig and the nose. She suggests I wear her witch costume with a tall, stiff hat and a hot, rubber mask. She suggests I wear my dad’s chambray shirt, jeans and a blonde wig that he wore to be something she couldn’t quite remember at an RV club party twenty years ago. I’m not getting any of this. And, geez, no wonder my shit is still in boxes in the middle of the floor in my room! Apparently the dresser drawers and closets are full of frumpy costumes from the past five decades. For two.  Trick.

I’m tired. I don’t want to wear my dad’s chambray shirt and a blonde wig. I decide not to go. It’s just easier, and I’m tired. I finish dinner, and dishes and think about trick or treating. It would be a real trick to find enough energy to get dressed up and ready and go to a Halloween party, alone, and be engaging and energetic and charismatic. A real trick. I decide on treat, and take a nice, hot bubble bath. I listen to an audiobook I’m half way through and am totally enjoying. I set my plastic Vino Volo glass full of cab sav on the edge of the tub. Might I mention that this bathtub and I do not get along. This tub is nearly fifty years old, though it looks brand new, because no one ever used it, and for good reason. Unlike new tubs, it has actual real estate on two corners, ample enough acreage for a bargain size bottle of Paul Mitchell shampoo, and a bargain size bottle of Paul Mitchell conditioner, face wash, body wash, a loofah, a razor and a glass of wine, or coffee, depending on the time of the shower. But, like many other pieces of real estate I’ve owned in my life, it’s too steep to be useful. True, it looks fine, until you try to actually use it, then the bottles all slide and tumble into the tub, one after the other. I’ve taken to setting the bottles on the floor, next to the tub, when I shower, and retrieving them and replacing them, one by one, in the order used. I don’t’ often take bubble baths, I don’t’ normally like to sit that still for that long. Who, beside me, takes a three-minute bubble bath? I take shorter bubble baths than showers! You can ask my Sweetie, it’s true! But, tonight, for whatever reason, I was able to just sit in the warm water and soak. I bet I was in the tub for a full ten, maybe even fifteen minutes. And, just how long do you think it took for my plastic Vino Volo glass of cab sav to slide along that stupid, generously sized but overly sloped tub edge and into the tub? Right! About ten seconds! I’ve heard that wine, in your bath, is very good for your skin. We’ll see. If I look younger and more radiant tomorrow, we’ll know! I managed to save a third of the wine, because I’m fast like that, and I clung, tightly, to my glass, while enjoying my audio book and being in a place where no one, on the phone or in person, was going to play devil’s advocate with me. Bliss. Treat.

My lesson for today; feeling a wee bit grumpy, tired, a little out of sorts, with some thought and self reflection, I decided it’s because I have been working very slowly, but very diligently, towards a number of goals, simultaneously. Career goals, relationship goals, financial goals, spiritual goals, fitness goals, nutrition goals. So many goals. For weeks, months, years, even, I have been just plinking away at these goals. They require a cannonball and I’ve been firing at them, monotonously, for years, with a child-sized, pellet gun. But, it seems, I am making progress. This week, for the first time in a long time, I could actually feel that I’ve made some significant progress. Every fall, for whatever reason, I sort of gird my loins and fight a little harder towards my long-term goals, and, this week, I actually felt like I was on the brink of some measurable progress. But, I am not there yet. I am so close, but not there. I have tossed all the knives into the air, I am standing, looking up, squinting and shielding myself as the knives all finish their arc up, pause, and begin their fall towards, well, me. Now, I’ve got to catch them all! Or, at the very least, dodge them. The “future” is frustratingly close, uncertain and a little scary. Boo! And, as a result, I keep catching myself “future focused”, rather than being present. This causes anxiety.

The real reason I didn’t go to the Halloween bash dressed, comfortably and fashionably, as a gypsy, was because I have that pain in my neck, again. Every fall, about the time I start girding my loins and fighting a little harder towards my long-term goals, I get a pinched nerve in my upper back that is excruciating. It takes weekly massages and chiropractic care, for months, to unknot them. This is all anxiety driven, I am sure. So, today, I caught myself, and reflected back on a handful of books I consider constant and vital resources in my life library. “The Power of Now”, of course, by Eckhart Tolle and “The Soulmate Experience” by Joe Dunn and Mali Apple, both of which I have read multiple times and have recently purchased on Audible and have thoroughly enjoyed listening to driving to and from the airport. Another, and one I’m about half way through for the first time, “The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism” by Olivia Fox Cabane. And last, but not least, Jillian Michael’s “Slim for Life”.

In “The Charisma Myth”, Olivia Fox Cabane provides a valuable pointer for staying present, one of the three necessary qualities for being charismatic, she says you should wiggle your toes when you are listening to others speak. By wiggling your toes, you are in the moment, you are present, and you appear, to the speaker, to be actively listening and engaged, which all charismatic people are.

Jillian. Jillian, Jillian, Jillian. Her books have changed my life, the others that followed have added, immeasurably, but I would never have begun my journey, my effort, towards personal improvement, had it not been for Jillian Michaels. To some, at first, she seems hard to take seriously. But, seriously; plain, matter of fact, backed with facts, passionate, clear advice. After her first book, in my household, WWJD, which a few years earlier stood for “what would Jesus do?” became WWJD, “what would Jillian do?” In Jillian’s latest book, “Slim for Life,” she talks a bit about the importance of core strength and posture. We all slouch. I slouch. I’ve seen pictures. Recently.

So, I’ve taken the very practical and important advice from “The Charisma Myth” about doing something physical to stay “present”, rooted in the moment, in the now, and I’ve combined it with Jillian’s advice on core strength and posture. So, to remind myself to remain present, while I may be wiggling my toes, unless I’m wearing flip flops, in which case, I may appear a bit weird, I tighten my core and stand very straight and erect, I flex every core muscle I can discern, and this keeps me focused, a bit more, on the present moment, where I should be, where there are no regrets of the past or anxieties of the future.

The point, here, is to live only in the present. The present is the only point in time in which we have any power. We cannot make any changes to anything that has happened in the past. No amount of regret or remorse will ever change anything that has happened. Make your peace with that, apologize, if need, forgive where necessary, and leave it in the past. Likewise, no amount of worry or thought about the future, now, will have any positive affect, other than to deprive you of the only time you do have to make an impact, now. Remaining so focused on the future not only deprives us of the present, now, and, ultimately, our life, it creates unnecessary anxiety. No amount of worry ever had any positive affect on the future. To the contrary, actually, if you are at all aware or familiar with the concept of the power of thought and manifestation. What you believe, you can conceive, to quote Brian Tracy. If we believe only anxiety driven worries and fears about the future, the energy and focus and though we believe is more likely to manifest than the opposite, or the actual, desired, outcome.  There is energy in thought, and energy will attract energy. So, negative, anxious thoughts about some undesired outcome is much more likely to attract that negative outcome than positive, affirming thoughts. This may sound all “new world, touchy-feely, spirituality”, but, hey, what have we got to lose? Anxiety? Pain? Discomfort? Unrest? It is so worth the try. And, from my standpoint, I swear by it. Standing straight, core muscles flexed, wiggling my toes, focusing on the moment, the present and thinking positive. Treat.