Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:
Gratitude – I am grateful for my sense of calm
Affirmation – I am on the right path
Attitude – This is meant to be
Activity – Strength training at home; handstands, wall sits, planks, donkey kicks, crunches, bicep curls, deltoid raises, resistance band sidesteps, upright rows
Nurture – Fifteen minutes of meditation
Enrichment – Current reads of all sorts; The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Life of Pi, I Can See Clearly Now by Dr. Wayne Dyer, A Blistered Kind of Love by Angela and Duffy Ballard, and Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella
Giving – I practiced tolerance and kind words
Connection – Just texting with friends, family and loved ones. It was a nose to the grindstone kind of a day.
Simplifying – I thought about going to storage and grabbing a couple of bins of stuff I’ve decided I can live without and taking them to Goodwill. Sadly, I ran out of time working and working out. At least I mentally identified stuff that I can live without! The next step is easier!
Journaling – A Story
Ups and Downs
I signed up for a half marathon this coming weekend. I hesitated, but finally just did it. Why the hesitation? The course is hilly. Running uphill is hard, and running downhill is jarring. One cannot become a better runner, and we should always be striving to become better, if we don’t overcome our challenges. Or at least attempt to! (Continue Reading)
Social – Instagram (begoniascarlett), Facebook Page (Scarlette Begonia), Twitter (@BegoniaBegoniaS)
Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:
Gratitude – The sense of accomplishment that comes from tired, slightly achy, muscles
Affirmation – I am tolerant
Attitude – Feeling tenacious
Activity – Recovery
Nurture – Meditation for fifteen minutes
Enrichment – “Take in life cheerfully”
Giving – I helped Mom solve her Jumble puzzles, on request. Then I “Amazon Primed” a new pair of slippers for her.
Connection – A gathering of many, friends and acquaintances, old and new, for a surprise celebration of thirty years of marriage for a couple of lifelong friends
Simplifying – Today’s story is about simplifying.
Story – It’s a Beautiful Life
My life is beautiful.
Constancy, variety, clutter, simplicity.
Because my life is beautiful, I take pictures. I take lots and lots of pictures. I take lots of criticism for taking lots of pictures. But that’s what I choose to clutter my life up with; pictures. I take pictures of everything I eat, for example. I do this for two reasons; to kind of keep a journal of my dietary escapades in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle and, because, frankly, I think food is beautiful. I take pictures of all the places I go, all the things I see, the people I love, that is the diary of my life and, as I am lousy with dates, it is also a record of events I oft refer back to. (Continue Reading)
Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:
Gratitude: I am grateful for all the courageous and independent women in history who’ve inspired me, among them, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and, now, Coco Chanel
Affirmation: I am remarkable
Activity: Run 13.5 miles
Nurture: Meditation morphed into nap (what do you expect after a 13.5 mile run and an eighty mile drive?)
Enrichment – Listened to a chapter of Wayne Dyer’s “I Can See Clearly” on Audible during drive
Giving – Nothing more than kind words and good wishes for everyone’s holiday weekend
Connection – Great conversations while running with my running club this morning
Simplifying – Figured out how to use Microsoft Word and Dropbox on my iPhone so I can blog on the go more easily and don’t have to carry my iPad all the time
Journaling – A Story
My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”
I began to think about cartwheels.
I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel. (Continue Reading)
I got my first pair of cowboy boots when I was about four years old. They were red, of course, and came with an outfit my mom ordered for me from the Sears and Roebuck catalog; a white skirt and vest with red stitching and fringe, a red cowgirl hat, and the boots. I think I probably wore the outfit to school just frequently enough to set me apart as “unusual”, in kindergarten. That stigma never wore off, completely, but did, eventually, become kind of cool.
My second pair of cowboy boots arrived for my eleventh birthday and were very basic tan leather with suede accents. My eleventh birthday was the birthday I was allowed to spend my entire savings on my own horse. I used my boots almost daily when I went riding, they are practical for that, they have those pointy toes so it’s easy to slip them into the stirrups, and so, if you fall off, your foot will also slip easily out of the stirrups. The fact that there is, traditionally, no tread on the bottom of cowboy boots is also by design, so, again, your feet will slip right out of the stirrups if something goes awry. You really don’t want your foot stuck in a stirrup if you should become somehow detached from the horse, which is alarmingly common. The heels on the boots prevent your foot from sliding clear through the stirrup, again, trapping you should you fall off your horse, causing you to be drug helplessly behind the horse, likely scaring the beast even more, causing it to run even further, faster. Cowboy boots are not only fashionable, but practical. If you’re riding a horse.
As an adult, my own kids about eleven years old, we bought horses. Several. Too many. But that’s another story. So, I bought cowboy boots, too, for all of us. It seemed the practical thing to do. The boots, not the horses.
As a girl, I boarded my horse at a ranch and the people who owned the ranch fed my horse every morning and every night. I just had to show up and ride. Easy peasy.
The first year or so we owned horses, as a family, we boarded our horses, and, again, they were fed by someone else, morning and night. But as our herd grew (out of control), it somehow became more practical to buy a ranch and spend the board money on the additional mortgage payment. This is what we did. Now, we were feeding our own horses, morning and night. That’s when I discovered how treacherous cowboy boots could be. Slippery soles, slippery hay, a slight grade, and a fate nearly as terrifying as having your foot stuck in a stirrup when you become detached from the horse while riding.
So, while cowboy boots are very safe, by design, in one respect, they are equally dangerous in another. We rode horses with cowboy boots and we fed the horses with hiking boots with a robust, sticky tread. Slippery soles and sticky tread, both valuable and practical tools, both, really, necessary.
Let’s consider other tools we employ, not to feed, or ride, horses, but in our never-ending quest for happiness; daily meditation and daily vigorous exercise. Like cowboy boots and hiking boots, both are extremely valuable tools, really, necessary tools, though seemingly opposite. One requires stillness, the other, movement. They both have their purpose, they both fulfill a need. Slippery soles and sticky tread. Stillness and movement. Choose wisely.
How many times have I suggested we all face our fears? How many times have I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt on fear? You’d probably think I’m some completely fearless, super brave, incredibly courageous soul. I’m not. I’m quite ordinary, in most respects, and fears are no different. I have a healthy amount of fear, and I do strive to face them head on. I used to be afraid to fly. Some time between childhood and motherhood, I became afraid to fly. I didn’t like being out of control, unable to take over, if necessary. I fly all the time now, without a fearful thought, or nary a concern or worry. I’m a bit afraid of heights, yet I rock climb, I cross streams, backpacking, on narrow log bridges, I’ve been skydiving, and love it.
I’m afraid of elevators. I mean, I ride them. All the time. I have to. Well, I don’t HAVE to, but I often work in very tall buildings in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. When I go to the gym and work out on the step mill, I briskly walk up 72 flights of stairs, at a steady cadence, without stopping. It takes me fifteen minutes. Then I proceed with forty-five more minutes of cardio, followed by weights or an hour and a half of yoga. But I’m really, really sweaty, after just the step mill. So, yes, I could walk to the top of the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center, but I’d be too gross and sweaty to make a good impression on my clients! So, I opt for the elevator.
Why do I fear elevators? Well, actually, I think they’re fun. I like the roller coaster dropping tummy feeling on a high-speed elevator, and, yes, if alone, I will jump when the elevator first moves. It’s not the elevator moving, it’s the potential for the elevator to stop moving. With me in it. Between floors. I’m afraid of being stuck in an elevator.
Upon entering an elevator, whether I’m at a hotel and only have three floors to travel and opted for the elevator only because I have two full suitcases, or because I’m all dressed up for work and have thirty floors to go in an office building, I always look at the inspection tag to see if the elevator has had its regular, required inspection. If it hasn’t, I fret. Just a little.
This past week, I stayed in a hotel with a lurchy, creaky, elevator, minus the required posted inspection tags altogether. I used it only twice; suitcases up day one and suitcases down for check out. I took the stairs the rest of the time. Three floors, no big. The office building I worked in this week had five floors, there are four elevators, complete with inspection tags, all in good order. I have worked in this office building a dozen times, weeks at a time, year after year. Up, down, up, down, up, down. The elevators lurch and creak and moan and smell kind of like hot lubricant of some sort, but the tags are up to date and everyone seems to rely on them. Except for Chuck. He takes the stairs. But that’s kind of just Chuck.
The other day, my last day with this client, this month, we were on our way to lunch. We had a very full afternoon ahead of us and were intent on getting back to work within an hour. A group of us waited for the elevator. I was headed to lunch with a manager and several of my students were headed to lunch together. So, there were probably six or seven of us in the elevator, in all. We lurched down a few floors, from the fifth to the second. Who takes an elevator DOWN one flight? The biggest, fattest, hairiest, sweatiest, most loud, obnoxious, boorish, attorney I’ve ever witnessed, that’s who. At the second floor, the doors part and here stands this rotund man in a suit, with a briefcase. The elevator was full. Full with just us, six or seven accountants. Well, auditors, actually. The good kind, not I.R.S. auditors. I scoot back and welcome the portly man in, saying something about “the more the merrier”. I’d just been teaching my class about risk assessment, so I cracked a joke, an “audit” joke, something about “what’s the risk?” At about that time, the doors clenched shut and the elevator did nothing. It didn’t lurch or groan or moan or smell, it just sat there. I could feel my eyes grow about six times their usual size. I’d jinxed the elevator. My mind was racing, so I’m not sure if the voice I heard was the voice of terror in my mind, or if one of my students said, “you jinxed it!”
The fat dude in the suit was way in my personal space, not that anyone had much personal space, but he was definitely way too close to me, with his back turned to me. All I could do was stare at the stubbly, gray hair growing down the nape of his neck and into the collar of his shirt. You know, the hair that most suit wearing men with short hair have shaved neatly? And I marveled, too, at the sheer amount of fabric that made up his suit. I was closest to the buttons, me and Goliath. We both took turns pressing all of them. We finally thought to use the phone in the little compartment of the elevator, beneath the button panel. I could open the little door, but I couldn’t reach the phone without bending over, which I couldn’t do because there was a man wall in my way, so the man wall clutched at the phone with his pudgy fist. Whoever answered that phone got an earful of belligerence and threats and cuss words. The building superintendent and a technician would be sent immediately, we were told.
Since the elevator hadn’t moved, we were still right at the second floor. We, the auditors, stood passively, quietly, shifting from foot to foot. The massive attorney fumed and shifted and swore. When we could hear voices on the other side of the door, the super and the tech, we assumed, the lawyer yelled obscenities at them and threatened them. I’m thinking; a) great, piss them off and we’ll never get out of here b) there is no fan running and no fresh air source, how much oxygen is this gas bag wasting being an ass hat? c) oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I’m a bit claustrophobic and I was starting to feel pretty panicky. I could just see me totally losing it. No, actually, I couldn’t envision that at all. I’m very stoic, I’d freak out on the inside, but look totally normal on the outside. I guess. I don’t know. I’ve never been stuck in an elevator before. I decide to practice my deep breathing, like when I meditate, to calm myself, to focus. I focus on my breath, quietly. It wasn’t like I was in the corner doing an ujjayi breath, or Lamaze panting, or anything like that. I just breathed real slow, real quiet and real deep and focused on that for a bit.
Minutes passed. Everyone was fixated on their respective phones, scrolling, texting, playing “Words with Friends”. I’d taken a picture and posted it to several social media sites. Just feet, I took a picture of a whole bunch of dress shoes atop a worn elevator carpet and captioned it “stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors”. I got no comments, ever. One of my students endeavored to find “elevator music” on his phone and settled for Miles Davis, which I was quite enjoying. But, with each passing minute, the zombie apocalypse version of Rush Limbaugh that stood in front of me would launch into another tirade of curse words, empty threats and large clouds of carbon dioxide.
More time passed. I was still focusing on my breathing and had begun to prioritize the afternoon agenda, deciding which topics could be omitted and not cause any of these up and coming auditors to neglect detecting fraud in some high profile audit. I began to panic again. So much responsibility, teaching auditors to audit. The future of the stock market, of capitalism itself, in my hands. One undetected fraudulent act, one missed material misstatement, because of a glossed over agenda item in an auditing CPE class and western civilization and the barely recovering economy, lost. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm. Sanity restored. Perspective regained.
The Incredible Hulk started yelling again. The building super and the tech hadn’t made any progress. They’ve called the “repair guy”, who is “on his way”. We know not from where. Hulk roars; more obscenities, more threats, less oxygen for us all. I’ve taken my winter coat off. I managed to slide my very heavy handbag down to the floor, careful that the gold tassel I so covet doesn’t get trod on by the Clydesdale man beast.
More minutes pass. It’s getting uncomfortably stuffy and hot. I began to worry about a) enough fresh air to sustain us all b) long term, if we are to be stuck in the elevator for weeks, let’s say, who’s going Donner party on whom? c) my hair is going to start frizzing out of control. We heard another voice join the chorus “on the other side”. The repairman. King Kong goes ape shit and actually says, first thing, without any information or indication, without any provocation, “are you fucking Union?” Great. We’re in here for life. One of my mild mannered students, a sweet Kosher kid, finally snaps and says, politely, articulately, “I really don’t think that’s helping.” I’m waiting for punches to be thrown, when, suddenly, the elevator doors begin to part. A hand from outside appears between them, then another, and then the doors are pulled apart. And we walked out, filed down the stairs one floor, out into the cool, fresh Long Island air, and over to Bobby’s Burger Palace for a quick lunch. We left rabid Shrek behind, yelling and cursing and threatening our saviors.
Have you ever been overwhelmingly, hopelessly stuck in the elevator of life? Have you ever felt like your life isn’t moving in the direction you thought it would, isn’t moving at all? Do you ever panic or worry or fret, curse, yell or threaten, when things just aren’t progressing? Have you ever felt angry or stressed or sad, depressed, bitter, discouraged, at being stuck where you are? Just like being stuck in the elevator, being stuck in life is temporary, everything, after all, is temporary. Everything will pass, guaranteed. Just breathe deeply, be calm, regain your focus, get some clarity, persevere, and things will work out. If your goal is to go up, or down, in an elevator and the elevator breaks, you still, eventually, get where you intend to go. Or you die. Either way, the being stuck part ends. So, too, in life.
In that elevator, stuck at the second floor, when I felt my irrational panic begin to rise, I recalled lessons in meditation I’ve been practicing. I learned, again, in practicality, that I can control how I react, even if I can’t control the situation. This is something I knew, already, and practice, and preach. But to have it presented to me in a situation I have always feared, always dreaded, reinforced the lesson in such a tangible, tactile fashion, I shall never forget it.
After lunch, when we returned to the classroom, our tale was shared with those who took another elevator, or the stairs. One of the managers told a tale, of her husband, who’d been stuck in an elevator, in Rockefeller Center, when there was a power outage in New York City. They were between floors, in that elevator car, for over five hours. The rescue crew had to break through the wall to the elevator car to then pry the doors open. I listened, in awe, in horror, and my immediate thought was “I’d never survive!” Of course I would survive. Of course I would. I’d come out of it wiser and better able to cope. Or in a straight jacket. Nah.
When I think of the “unsurvivable” things I’ve not only lived through, but from which I’ve ended up growing, evolving, and drawing a great deal of strength from; the death of friends, of family members, the parting of ways of once best friends, divorce, foreclosure, losing the dream ranch, re-homing pets, re-homing rescued horses, low self-esteem, an unhealthy lifestyle. And no regrets, ever, without those “tragedies” and experiences, I wouldn’t be half the person I am now. I was stuck in those situations, in those patterns, in that lifestyle. And now I’m not. They were temporary. I breathed my way through, got clarity and focus and persevered. I’m sure you’ve been stuck in your own elevators in life, and you’ve made it through. What have you learned? That you’ll make it through, at the least. But, did you learn from it, too? Do you carry those lessons with you, to draw from in whatever temporary situation you’re in now, that you’ll face later?
Perhaps you’re stuck right now! Whether you’re stuck in an elevator, in line at Target, in traffic, or in a dead end job, a damaging relationship, an unfulfilling career, an unhealthy lifestyle, in indecision, in a state of depression, or in a world of self loathing and poor self esteem, know that all things are temporary, and with meditation, focus, clarity, time and perseverance, we will get unstuck. Keeping rational, and breathing through it, though, will allow us not just to triumph, but to also glean a life lesson we can remember and draw from, again, if, or more accurately, when, we get stuck next. Going up?
Let’s talk about the word “still”. Five letters assembled together into a single syllable word that has a few different uses, a few different meanings, both good and not so good. Still.
Still; a bad thing. It takes motion and activity to accomplish things, from getting out of bed in the morning, to acquiring knowledge, to running a marathon. Being still, when we should be moving, then, is a bad thing. We cannot accomplish goals, learn, grow, be healthy, prosper, if we are still. Stillness suggests inaction, or, perhaps, complacency. Sure, we may move, physically, during the course of our day, but are we in motion towards anything greater than we currently are? That is the question. We were meant to learn, grow, achieve, by design, to which stillness is the enemy.
Further, we were designed, by nature, to move, physically. We are hunters, we are gatherers, by nature, our bodies, our minds and our souls require frequent, vigorous physical activity to thrive, to survive. Consider, then, stillness, the killer. Stillness robs us of our youth and our quality of life.
Are you still? Are you too still?
How do we know how to move, what direction to go, what to seek, to chase, to learn, to achieve?
Still; a good thing. To connect to ourselves, in order to, perhaps, decide what it is we are meant to do, or be, or accomplish, we must be still, in body and in mind. This, though, for only a portion of our day. To learn to sit and quiet ourselves so that only our breath and the immediate moment surround us. In quieting and clearing our mind, in connecting our body and mind to our soul through breath and presence, we become aware of the current moment, the present, and we are more clear on who we are and in our purpose. There are many ways to practice stillness; meditation, peaceful, solitary activities such as walking or hiking, yoga, cycling, running or paddling. We simply need time set aside to allow the mind to quiet and the constant noise of our thoughts to cease. We need time to be present and focus only on our breath as it comes and goes, daily. In this stillness we have the opportunity to become ourselves, to connect our spirit to our being, and to be present.
How do we accomplish our goals, our purpose, or even just stillness?
Still; a good thing. Still is also a word used to imply consistency. Much of what we wish to do with our lives, in this world, relies on consistency, constancy, and perseverance. Whether achieving and maintaining our health, our fitness, a skill, some knowledge, or the ability to sit in stillness and connect to our breath, it all will require practice, consistent, regular practice. Still. A lifetime, sometimes.
: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
“Religious”, then, being the practice or adoption of a religion. Most church-going folk, then, are considered “religious” if only because of the fact they devote some portion of their time, usually on a weekend, to attend a church service. Whether church-going folk are actually practicing their religion is a whole other story. They could be, many do. Some don’t, and the only religion they practice is the exercise of going to church to be in the midst of those more technically religious than they are. Like the holiness, righteousness and salvation of the god-fearing will rub off on the non-god-fearing church attenders. There is a difference between being religious, then, and being virtuous and faithful to one’s chosen god. My point. But I digress a bit.
So, by the same standard, then, there are folks who don’t attend some church building on a routine basis who are religious in the god-fearing, worshipping, virtuous and faithful way. The act of routinely visiting some building with hundreds of other “believers” does not, then, make one saved. The non-church-going god worshippers are also religious in their belief and practices surrounding their chosen methods of worship of the god they have faith in.
In common, everyday, language, some people refer to a set of secular practices, performed regularly and with a certain amount of devotion as being “religious”. Even godless, non-church-going folk may do some activity “religiously”. Pagans.
So, then, I contend that someone can be “religious” whether they go to church, or not, and whether they actually believe in and worship some god, or not. When we say we do something “religiously”, we mean that we believe in and practice in some way, something we feel strongly about. We are devoted. I know folks who are religious about watching certain television shows. I am acquainted with people who are religious about swearing and using profanity. I have friends who are religious about adopting stray cats. And, not unlike the god-worshipping devotees, the religious, though some of them may beg to differ, we are imperfect, always, in our practice. Whether god-fearing, church going, or not, we are all sinners, however “religious” we may be.
I am religious.
Non-secularly; I am a believer in and worshipper of some higher power. So I have a belief and a practice. Of sorts. I like to think I live a fairly virtuous life, and may even “qualify” by some standards for an “after-life” or “eternal salvation”. I won’t get into details beyond that. But, aside from worship, godly powers and eternal salvation, I am religious. I have many secular, pagan, beliefs and practices that I follow regularly, that I am devoted and faithful to.
I eat clean. I buy organic, sustainably grown, locally grown, fairly traded and humanely treated food. I buy food as close to its natural state as possible. I not only read ingredients, I try to figure out just how many processes an item of food has undergone before I put it in my basket. The fewer the better. I avoid additives and unnecessary processes, I avoid unnecessary packaging and other practices I feel are detrimental to the environment, my health, or the purity of the product. About this, I am religious. It is a belief and a practice that I embrace, daily, that I am devoted to and follow faithfully. But, I do sin. I am imperfect. Occasionally, I eat crap, a Double-Double at In-N-Out, just because, or I eat M&M’s on a long drive to keep awake and alive. In my travels, I often have to eat in restaurants where I can only hope the food is a fraction as wholesome, unprocessed and pure as I’d like. My sin, my imperfection, however, does not in any way negate my belief and my practice. I don’t just stop believing and practicing eating clean because I sin now and then, by choice or out of necessity.
I exercise. I believe in, and practice, vigorous exercise on a regular basis. Daily would be my preference. I run, I do cardio at the gym, I do strength training, I practice yoga, I attend spin class, and I lead an active lifestyle beyond just my exercise regime. I am religious about exercise. But I am imperfect. I am slender, but still carry extra weight in a few “trouble spots”. I lack the desired muscle tone in other places. And I sin. It is humanly impossible to work out absolutely everyday. And there are those days, too, where I just don’t wanna. My sin and imperfection as a religious exerciser does not mean I am any less a believer in the virtues of exercise in my life. That I sometimes just don’t want to exercise some day or another does not mean I have abandoned the practice. I am still religious about it.
I meditate. I am religious about it. I believe and practice meditation. Not nearly as much, or as regularly, as I’d like. It is a newer belief and practice and I am still trying to integrate it into my “daily routine”. Like clean eating and regular, vigorous, exercise, I believe that meditation offers many benefits for health and wellness and general happiness.
On another note, I’m pretty religious about craft beer, red wine, and ice cream, perhaps a little more religious in my practice than I should be. Hallelujah! Praise the lord! Amen! Pass the offering plate!
I read. I write. I pray. I work really, really, really, hard. I post lots of food pictures to Facebook. All things I am fanatically religious about. All that, and my “daily routine”. I am religious about my “daily routine”. I make lists to help me accomplish all that I hope to in my “daily routine”, but, without fail, the routine is never completed, on any, one, day. Ever. I am imperfect, a sinner. Do I give up on my “daily routine”? No. I believe in it and practice it and it will never be complete or perfect. But it is still good, and I still try. What I don’t accomplish one day, I may the next, and I am better for it, just like clean eating, regular, vigorous exercise and meditating.
My point. Whatever your religion, whatever you believe in and practice, you cannot, will not, no matter what, ever be perfect and sin-free. Don’t ever abandon your belief and practice of something you find worthwhile because you stray. Be religious and you shall find salvation!
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.
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.
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! 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.
Troubles, troubles, troubles. You know the song. How about the troubles you have that you didn’t know you had until you learned something new? Ever have those types of troubles?
I have troubles with attachments.
All kinds of attachments. There are attachments on my Dyson vacuum I struggle with every once in a great while, when I decide the dust bunnies are planning an attack and a preemptive strike is in order. I also struggle with GoPro attachments. I need to devote a whole day to GoPro attachment mastery. I have recently had some troubles with attachments to emails and text messages being too large. I created a full-scale cinematic production/Valentine’s Day greeting for my Sweetie, only to have to cut it by about 92.7% to a size that could be attached and sent from iMovie to my Gmail account so I could then attach it to a text for quick, same-day, delivery. Sigh. I think it ended up being three frames. Oh well. I’m ready for next Valentine’s Day, the full movie is done and can be burned to DVD and delivered with the card. Ssshhh.
Lately, though, it seems I’m quite attached and I shouldn’t be. Which is news to me. But I’m learning. And, eventually, I think I shall learn to be unattached. Or is it detached? Oh dear. I need clarification.
So the attachment I am having the most trouble with, is trouble I never knew I had before, and I’ve got it bad. Over the past month or so, I have been learning more about mindfulness, meditation and “simply being”. I am not a total stranger to the idea, it has been on my “intend to master” list for quite some time. Now that I have amassed a sizable Kindle library on the topic, downloaded several albums from iTunes, audiobooks from Audible and apps from the App Store, I’m fast becoming a) invested in the subject, b) broke c) overcommitted to reading, listening and learning and d) unable to find time to meditate or “simply be”, as one app instructs. And since becoming so aware of my breath through all of this instruction, I’m kind of dizzy, light-headed and a bit bloated.
No, this is not totally new, this mindfulness and meditation thing, though I’ve sucked at it for as long as I can remember. In yoga, we often begin and/or end the class with some guided meditation in corpse pose. I can do corpse pose. No problem. But the mind is whirring, I fear, audibly. I’m afraid it can be heard churning and humming over the lovely chanting, flutey, water torture music playing in the background during yoga class. With a great deal of effort, I have been able to improve with this some, lately. My favorite yoga instructor guides us through the meditation, telling us to just let thoughts that spring up, go. Just let them go. He says it’s okay to have thoughts, as long as you “don’t chase them down the rabbit hole”. I think it was inappropriate at the time, but I LOL’d. I tend to think visually, often, so the picture was kind of funny. Sorry. I don’t know what goes on in most folk’s heads, I always assumed they were like mine. Now I’m not so sure. Now, I imagine theirs with little fluffy thought clouds drifting around a serene space, one drifting past, then another a full moment later. In my head, it’s like the shooting gallery at the carnival; picture hundreds of really fast little metal rabbit targets, with goofy faces painted on them, and I’d have to say they’re pink, just to add to the absurdity. And I’m trying to shoot them, rapid fire, with a poorly maintained plinker, chained to the bench with a chain just a little too short for an accurate shot. The pink rabbit targets easily dodge my shots, as they scamper back and forth along the little track, before disappearing down the “rabbit hole”. My shooter keeps jamming and misfiring and I manage to hit one out of every hundred or so. Ladies and gentlemen, my mind, lots and lots of rabbits down the hole. Every thought I have is fully explored, in depth, categorized, classified, an action plan drafted, indexed, cross-referenced and color-coded, highlightered … highlighted … highlit, (which is it?!), with charts and graphs, and a bibliography, with web links. I think visually, in Excel spreadsheets, in my brain. With Google open.
I recently read a great book that my daughter, Daisy and her hubby, Sherwood, oh, and their cat, all gave me for Christmas. It was sort of the lid that loosened on this whole can of worms; “Zen and the Art of Running – The Path to Making Peace With Your Pace,” by Larry Shapiro, PhD. It was here I first learned, or perhaps “absorbed” the idea of “attaching” to thoughts. We are, instead, to observe our thoughts, separate ourselves from our thoughts. It all clicked, it did sound familiar, and I harkened back to an often read and re-read (Kindle) and listened and re-listened to (Audible), but apparently not fully absorbed, annul, by Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now” with his discussion of “ego” and “essence”. I have a very ADHD ego and my essence is narcoleptic. But we’re working on it. We’re working on it? Great, now I have a multiple personality disorder, me, myself, my ego, my essence, and I.
I went to a crab feed the other night, at a “Portuguese Club”. I went with friends and between us all, including in-laws, cousins, and shirttail relatives, we, collectively are about 1/5th Portuguese. But the food was awesome and it was a fundraiser, so, yah. Anyway, my mind resembles a Portuguese crab feed; incredibly crowded, very loud, lots of food, there is music, dancing, probably too much wine, and not everyone is speaking the same language!
I am currently trying to muster my way through an interesting though terribly clinical read on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness”. I should have known, I don’t have pain, or illness, thankfully, and I don’t have what most people categorize as stress. It is a good book, but, as I said, very clinical. The dude is a doctor, a PhD, and treats some really unfortunate people and I think I’ve been told each and every one of their stories in the book. I’m not yet half way through the book. I’ve been browsing online for the “lite” version, or Cliff Notes. I ended up downloading a speed reading app from the App Store and have managed to improve my reading speed and comprehension significantly, but, still, I have 60% of this book left to read and I know, know, know, the bits that are going to be most beneficial to me lie ahead, not in what I’ve already laid to waste. I have two more of Jon’s books to read after this one. Maybe they are the “lite” version. We’ll see. There is very good information in Jon’s material. Like meditating, don’t attempt reading this stuff at bedtime. As Dr. Larry Shapiro (above) says about meditation, watch out for “sleeping hazards”.
So, through all of this, which sounds sort of fast, furious and dizzying, I am actually finding some mindfulness, some calm, some peace, intentionally, a time or two a day. I am gaining proficiency at “shooting the rabbits” before they “go down the rabbit hole”, and I find that some of my little anxieties and worries can be more easily reasoned with. It’s not that I have less little anxieties and worries, I am human, after all, but I can now identify them as rabbits and reason with them. Maybe threaten them, is more accurate. “Give up you wascally wabbit or I’ll bwast yuh!” and if that doesn’t work, I just pick up another book on meditation and mindfulness and my little anxieties and petty worries flee in terror!
No, in all seriousness, there is tremendous value in fostering mindfulness, in living in the present and in not attaching to every thought that enters our mind. Think of it like sorting through cranberries, or lentils. Yes, you’re supposed to do that, it says so on the package. Cranberries, or lentils, are like our thoughts. Many are good and should be observed, kept, acted on. Some are bad and should be culled and discarded. The bad ones are usually doubts, fears, insecurities, anxious thoughts, thoughts of the past that can’t be changed, worries about the future that is wholly unknown, unkind thoughts, angry and unforgiving thoughts. Toss ‘em, they don’t belong in our recipe. Keep the good berries, or lentils; the loving thoughts, the positive thoughts, the kind thoughts, the forgiving thoughts, thoughts about the moment, the present. In fact, if there were one thing we could all do to improve our health, wellness, well-being and even our relationships, I think it would be just that; foster mindfulness, live in the present and don’t attach to every thought that enters our mind. The fastest way to this ideal is through the practice of meditation.
I wrote an article on Slowing Down earlier today. I did a fair job, I mean, there was no agenda, no “to do” list. Well, actually, there was, but it was very general, things that needed to get done, at some point, sooner rather than later. I helped out with this list, a little (I mean a very little) manual labor. And it felt good.
We ran into town to get my fishing license and I had to sign an scan an HR document to send in to work so all the I’s were dotted and the t’s crossed for the rest of my vacation. We stopped at a fishing hole on the way home and since we happened to have a couple of poles in the car, we thought we’d try my new license out. There I was in my brand new purple floral print jeans I bought at UNIQLO on Fifth Avenue last week in New York and my adorable high-low blouse with the diamond shaped copper studs on the collar. The mosquitoes were thick as flies, so I did the unthinkable, I mixed DEET with Vera Wang’s Princess. An interesting fragrance combination. In fifteen minutes I learned the basics of fly-fishing and even managed to catch a grayling, which we released. Meanwhile, my man was after a pike he spotted on the edge of the river in the tall grass. We’ve been after that pike, or a similar pike, in the same location, for a few visits now. This time, after switching out lures, he got him and I guess we’re having pike for appetizers before our moose steak tonight. I’m excited! I guess my license worked. Or the outfit. Or my new fragrance combination. Whichever.
This brings up an excellent point; I am considering launching a whole new product line including shampoos, conditioners, body wash, lotions, fragrances, deodorant, makeup, even laundry detergent and dryer sheets, laced with DEET. I’m also going to develop the same line with organic, toxic free citronella, for the Whole Foods crowd. They’ll invest heavily in my organic line, and eventually, reinvest in my DEET line because, we all know, it will actually work. I’m pretty confident this will be my million dollar idea. Stay tuned!
Slowing down is valuable in our life, as I wrote about, on an occasional basis, to let the mind quiet, to absorb our surroundings and to acknowledge the essence, the quiet voice from within, once we can calm the superficial voice.
We can also learn to slow down on a daily basis, as part of our routine. We need to build some “slow” into our hectic and chaotic days. Amidst the agendas and to do lists, the work, the chores, the obligations, the meetings, the phone calls, we need to find a way to slow certain aspects down.
We can practice deliberate periods of slowness with mediation, rhythmic breathing or yoga. Some people are even capable of clearing their minds of the superficial noise by walking or running. The practice of slowing down, though never completely mastered, adds a deeper dimension to our thought processes. We become more capable of problem solving, of managing stress and of quieting ourselves in an otherwise hectic world.
Slowing down while eating is another fantastic practice. In our rushed and hurried lives we tend to just wolf down our meals, snacks and munchies mindlessly. And we end up eating far more than we require for good health and nutrition. To slow down and acknowledge each bite, appreciate the flavor, the texture, chew slowly, set our utensils down between bites we’ll find we enjoy our meals more and consume less. This is a little known weight loss and maintenance secret.
We should also slow down enough, a little bit every day, to refuel our knowledge; read, write, sing, speak, learn. Finding a way to incorporate this into our routine will benefit us whether just trying to keep our minds nimble, further our studies, or enhance our knowledge for career advancement.
So, when considering what to do to make life a little more relaxed, a little more fulfilling, just remember the lyrics to the Simon and Garfunkel song “Feeling Groovy”, “slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last. Just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.”