Tag Archives: Meditation

Oh The Holidays…

As the song The Twelve Pains of Christmas points out in its own humorous way, not everything about the holidays is merry and bright.  There are those things that we find to be stressful and frustrating.  And let’s face it, the holidays bring up many emotions – not all of the emotions are ones we enjoy experiencing, especially during a celebratory time like the holidays.

So how do we get through the holidays if our experience with them is filled with anxiety, anger, or angst?  How can you learn to be on the offensive and not the defensive?  How can you see the holidays as not just a challenging time, but also as an opportunity for growth, change, and healing?  How can you learn to be present in the moments such that you are grateful and enjoy yourself?

In general, being honest with yourself so you can clearly identify your triggers along with a willingness to see things differently are keys to a successful emotional shift.  Having a few tips and tricks up your sleeve when you head into those otherwise stressful holiday situations can also make all the difference.

  • If family togetherness is more than you care to handle, try these ideas:
  1. Prepare yourself before you go – in many cases the things that upset us the most with our family are things that happen every time we are together, so expect it and don’t hold on to it. Let it go as soon as it comes.
  2. See those family members who push your buttons through the eyes of love – remember they are doing the best they can given where they are on their own journey, and while that doesn’t always take away the sting of some of their comments it can help you release those things rather than hold on to them unnecessarily.
  3. Don’t take things personally, rather be filled with compassion – they may be struggling with their own feelings about the holidays or other things in their lives and as such may not be able to relate to others in a kind or loving way. Develop and use a mantra, such as “I am love, you are love”, to help you release those things when they happen.
  • Crowds not your thing? Try these tricks:
  1. Do some deep breathing or meditation before you head into a crowded place – get yourself to as calm and centered a state as possible before you enter the stressful situation.
  2. Have a strategy to do what you need to do in that crowded place and then leave – a little pre-planning is invaluable at times like this. Get in, do what you came there for, and get out – there’s no need to stay any longer than necessary as it will only add to the stress of the situation.
  3. Consider alternatives – do you have to go to that crowded place, or can you go somewhere else? Do you have to go at a specific time or can you go at a less crowded time? Consider all your options – don’t just do something because it is what you have always done or is what everyone else does.
  • If you get frustrated with that crazy, busy schedule created by all the holiday happenings you have to attend, then try these tips:
  1. Learn to say no when you can – it is tempting to say yes to all the holiday get togethers but your sanity is important too so consider not going to everything you get an invitation for. Maybe alternate your attendance each year between the events you really enjoy and let the hosts of those events know you appreciate the invitation and plan to come next year if invited.
  2. Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them – honor yourself and your loved ones with boundaries that give you the time you need for yourself as well as for holiday festivities
  3. Get creative – if you are one of those lucky people with multiple family members to visit on any given holiday, think of creative ways to bring everyone together in one place (like maybe your house) instead of running to 3 and 4 places. In many cases your other family members will appreciate the opportunity to not have to be the host all the time – it can be a win-win for everyone.
  • Feeling miserable because of too much food (sugary and otherwise) at the holidays? Try these suggestions:
  1. Re-set your portion size for the holiday – knowing there will be many tempting foods to partake in, consider rethinking portion sizes so even if you eat more things than you planned, by eating smaller portions you have a better chance of not actually increasing the overall volume of food you intake.
  2. Sample rather than eat – use the holidays as a time to try things, which means samples not full blown meals or portions. It’s okay to try things, but we want to try not to overdo it.
  3. Love yourself no matter what happens – practice forgiveness. It is okay if you had more than you wanted to have – it is a special time of the year. Recognize what happened, accept and love yourself, and let tomorrow be a new day.
  • If you struggle with the “keeping up with the Jones” syndrome and get stressed trying to outdo your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the area of decorations, cookie making, gift giving, gift wrapping (you get the idea), then take a deep breath and consider these options:
  1. Let go of the need to compare – do what brings you joy, not what makes you the talk of the family, neighborhood, or office
  2. If you can’t let go of the competition, then give yourself permission to ask for help from friends or family to accomplish all these things you want to do-
  3. Consider how you can turn that competitive spirit into a positive force – think creatively about how to join forces with your “competitors” to do some amazing things for others this holiday season. Turn it into a little friendly competition that benefits others in the process.

Don’t dread the holidays – take them back on your own terms. Try some of these ideas and be open to enjoying your holidays a little more than maybe you have in the past. Make a few small changes in how you approach the holidays and who knows, you might actually have a happy holiday this year!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!!

To Meditate Or Not To Meditate, That Is The Question

“The quieter you become the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass

In our normal, everyday consciousness, our mind is filled with a constant flow of thoughts. It can become quite noisy and even sometimes overwhelming. I often refer to this as the hamster wheel inside my head…that is a hamster wheel with an ADHD hamster hyped up on too many espresso drinks! These continual thoughts can be about the past or the future. We might be replaying events and conversations in your mind (dwelling on the past).  We might be thinking about what’s going to happen at our next meeting, activity, or event.  We might create fantasies about what life will be like when our dreams are fulfilled (aka future tripping).  Or we may conjure up scary scenarios about our worst fears coming true (good old-fashioned worrying).  It is very seldom that are we sitting still in the present moment.

In meditation, the goal is for your awareness to move from the noisy activity of your mind into the quiet “gap” between your thoughts. This takes practice – you don’t just sit down and clear your mind of your thoughts the first time you try it. I liken it to learning to play an instrument.  You can’t pick up an instrument for the first time and expect to play a complex piece of music like a master.  You have to start with the basics and practice (and practice and practice), slowly improving your skills and learning increasingly challenging pieces of music.  Similarly, meditation is not something most people are able to master when they sit down for the very first time.  It takes practice to reach that gap between your thoughts and stay in it for any length of time.  Some days will be better than others…some types of meditation will work better for you than others will.  But sadly many people expect that they will quiet their mind in their first or second attempt and when they don’t they declare that they can’t meditate or that meditation doesn’t work, and thus they quit.  I have seen that happen so often.  People give up due to incorrect assumptions or understandings or as a result of unrealistic expectations.

But consider this story from India in which the mind is compared to the trunk of an elephant, which is naturally restless and undisciplined (just like our minds). When an elephant walks with his trainer through a village during a special celebration or event, his restless trunk swings from side to side, knocking over things, impulsively grabbing things, and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. A wise, experienced elephant trainer will give the elephant a short bamboo stick to hold in his trunk prior to walking through the village so that the elephant’s trunk has something to hold on to and is focused and calm. He is no longer distracted by the sights and sounds in the village market because his trunk has something to hold onto…he has something to focus his attention on.

Likewise, when we meditate, we need to give our minds the equivalent of a bamboo stick – something that will anchor our attention so that our mind doesn’t trample through our consciousness, being carried away by inner and/or outer distractions. There are a variety of options to choose from (different types of meditation offer different “bamboo sticks”), including focusing on the breath, tuning into the sensations in your body, and using a mantra. The best thing you can do for yourself is to try a variety of meditation techniques until you find what works best for your monkey mind.

When you meditate, you experience the silence of the mind when it is not stuck in the past or the future. By its very nature, meditation calms the mind, and when the mind is calm, the body can relax as well. This relaxation is extremely healing for the whole mind-body system. People may come to meditation for many reasons, but it usually includes the ability to reap some of the many benefits of meditation, which include:

  • Lowered blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Reversal of aging at the cellular level
  • Reduced feelings of stress
  • Increased feelings of relaxation and peace
  • Expanded experience of healing emotions (i.e. love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and gratitude)
  • The ability to respond consciously rather than reacting in a conditioned way
  • Increased focus, memory, and ability to learn
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased addictive behavior

The benefits of meditation can be both immediate and long-term, but either way they are numerous and powerful. Meditation is truly one of the best things you can do for yourself both personally and professionally.

Adding meditation to my daily routine has been the single most important thing I have ever done and I cannot recommend it to others enough. Invest in yourself – take some time to explore the various types of meditation in order to find what works best for you and then make meditation a part of your daily routine. Whether you meditate for 3 minutes or 30 minutes, the benefits you will reap from implementing a consistent meditation practice are totally worth it.

Just Stop

So much to do, so little time to do it. We just never really stop. We don’t stop to see all the beauty that surrounds us in nature, in our lives, in the people we are interacting with on a daily basis.  We don’t have time.  Yet we crave it.  We crave the peace that exists inside the pause.  We crave the opportunity to appreciate and feel gratitude.  Yet so few of us experience it.  This is somethings that has fascinated me over the past few years, both for myself and in terms of watching others.

I recently started doing more work with people on meditation – teaching them how to meditate, what the benefits of meditation are, how to incorporate meditation into their lives, etc. And in my conversations with these folks I am continually amazed at the level of stress, frustration, apathy, and exhaustion that they are experiencing in their lives. When we break those feelings down for them it is abundantly clear that the constant “on the go” reality they live in is slowly sucking the life out of them.  And all they want is to find a way to make it stop.  I believe this is true for many more people as well.  In fact, I think it is somewhat of an epidemic in our society today.

We live in a society that says we can have anything we want super-fast. Yet relief from these kinds of feelings doesn’t come quickly – it requires a change in attitude and/or behavior…neither of which tend to change overnight. There is no quick fix.  It requires a change in how we view things, how we interact with things, and in how we live our lives as  a whole.  That means reprogramming how you have probably always done things.  That is not easy and it certainly is not quick.  And so we get easily discouraged and fall right back into those feelings of despair and frustration.  It is a vicious cycle.

But for those who persevere, who recognize you won’t break life-long habits in a day or even a week, the results can be life-altering. Like meditation though, it is a habit to work a little each day on adopting a new mindset and set of behaviors. You’ll have good days and bad days.  But if you just stop living as you have always lived and entertain the possibility of more and better in your life, you can begin a new journey which can result in a much happier and healthier way of living.

I teach meditation as one such tool for making that shift, though there are many other tools out there as well. I encourage you to find what works for you, embrace it, and settle in for the exciting journey ahead. You have nothing to lose – the alternative is more of what you already have and if that’s not what you crave, then why not give it a shot.  Simply put, this or something better please!

Surrendering

I just wanted to scream. You know, the kind of scream that originates in your toes and flows all the way up through your body. The kind of scream that hurts to the point of feeling good.  That kind of scream.  Yes, that is what I felt compelled to do.  Just let it all out with one giant scream.    Wait.  I wanted to curl up into a ball and pretend like no one could see me.  That none of this was real.  That this was all just a bad dream.  A really bad dream.  Yes, that was what I wanted to do.  Disappear.  Pretend it wasn’t happening.

Ever feel that way? I am sure you have. In fact, I am sure we all have at one time or another.  And I am also fairly certain we have all experienced those feelings repeatedly.  My most recent rendezvous with those feelings just happened to be this past week.  I had to throw up the flag.  I had to admit it can’t all be done, that I can’t do it all, and then I had to come to peace with that realization (something my perfectionist self did not like at all).

What it came down to was this – there were simply not enough physical hours this past week to get everything done that needed to be done at work, so work bled over into my personal time. That meant a lot of my personal stuff got dropped, rescheduled, etc. Sleep was lost, activities had to be cancelled, my meditation practice and my morning routine got skipped most days, my In Box was overflowing, and my weekly blog didn’t get published for the first time since I started it over a year and a half ago.  I was feeling exhausted and out of control.  I started to feel like a failure for not getting to everything, for having to cancel things, for not being good enough in general, for dropping the ball on my meditation practice, for not getting my weekly blog published, etc.  It was a vicious, unproductive, ego-based cycle that was not serving me.  Arrgghh!!  I had to hit the “make it stop now” button.  I had to pause, breathe, and get re-centered.  I needed to figure out why things felt so out of whack.  And so after spending some time chatting with a good friend and refocusing on what was really important, I had what I needed in order to understand the problem and let go of it.

The problem, as it turned out, is that I stopped honoring the boundaries I set for myself and for my daily life. I got lax with them and the net result was a state of unrest and imbalance that thoroughly wrecked my world for the better part of a week. Truth be told it will take the better part of this current week to fully rebound, but rebound I will because the alternative is not only unpleasant, but it doesn’t serve me or anyone in my life.

So my big lesson this past week was all about learning to surrender (okay I should really say it was remembering to surrender). Surrendering to the knowledge that I will occasionally neglect the boundaries I set for myself (it just happens on occasion). Surrendering to the fact that my ego-mind will sometimes win a few of the battles.  Surrendering to the idea of asking for and accepting help from my friends and colleagues.  Surrendering to what I cannot control and to the fact that I am human.  It really, truly is exhausting trying to hold on to all of it.  Hard as it can seem sometimes, surrendering it really is the better choice.

Cultivating A Relationship With Your Mind

“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.” – Natalie Goldberg

I often kept a diary as a kid, like many kids I imagine. There was something almost magical about it. And I wrote in my diary religiously when I had one.  It was my own very special place to write my deepest thoughts.  It was a place to write about my sister or my parents…or the boy I  liked at school…or my new best friend…or my best day ever.  And I locked it to keep it private, hiding it in my room so no one could find it.

Interestingly, keeping a diary as a kid is in essence the same concept as journaling. We might not lock it and hide it away and we might not start our journal entries with “Dear Diary”, but journaling does give us an opportunity to write about the things that are in our hearts and on our minds, not all that unlike when we wrote in our diary as a kid. And I am noticing more and more people, adults especially, journaling these days.

That includes me of course. Journaling has helped me tremendously these past few years. It has helped me process all the things I was thinking as well as how I was feeling when I was going through my divorce.  And it continues to help me as I develop new business ideas and struggle with thoughts such as am I good enough to be a writer, a blogger, a podcaster, etc.

I was fortunate enough to work with a coach who loves journaling and she gave me different journaling “exercises” to help me work through some of the things I was struggling with. And those journaling exercises have been extremely helpful on my journey to become a better version of myself. Journaling has been one of the consistent small steps on my road to big successes.  My coach, mentor, and friend Katie Dalebout is so passionate about journaling and the power it holds that she wrote a book about it.  Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling actually will be released in just a few days, on April 5th, and I am super excited about it.  Many of the journaling activities she did with me are in her book.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see an advanced copy of the book and it is such a great tool – whether you are just getting started with journaling or you are a seasoned veteran looking for some new ways to enhance your journaling, her book is an amazing tool.

One of my absolute favorite exercises from the book is one that Katie calls the Morning Dump – the idea being that you empty out your mind in the morning. She likens it to emotional mouthwash, rinsing your mind first thing in the morning. It is a great way to get clear and be able to focus on the important tasks of the day.  Some days this journaling exercise might yield a lot of material, and other days maybe not so much.  Some days it might a collection of completely random thoughts and ideas while on other days it may be a litany of thoughts on one specific topic.  No matter, I have found that starting out my day by clearing my mind of cluttered thoughts sets me up for a tremendously focused and productive day.

Journaling is definitely one of those activities about to which I would say the old adage “don’t knock it until you try” applies wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter if you journal by writing with pen and paper, typing on your computer, or recording yourself on a voice dictation app. Journaling is journaling.  There’s no right or wrong way to do it.  It’s simply about getting your ideas out of your head.  It’s processing your thoughts through words.  It’s reflecting, analyzing, and affirming.  There’s so much power in journaling.  It may be in the format of a conversation, an affirmation, a letter, complete sentences and paragraphs, or bulleted lists.  However you structure it, the important thing is that you are cultivating a relationship with your mind by journaling on a regular basis.  As the title of Katie’s book suggests, through journaling we can let it all out which is a very healthy endeavor – keeping it all inside isn’t good for anyone.

“Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.” – Robin S. Sharma

So whether you’re journaling for the sake of writing out your own thoughts or you are writing as a form of meditation, as Natalie Goldberg suggests in the opening quote, you are cultivating a relationship with your mind. It’s so very important and helpful to have a good relationship with your mind – you need to get in there and sort things out, clean things up, and make sense of it all. And journaling is a great way to do just that.

 

Please note, I do not receive any compensation for mentioning my friend Katie’s book in this blog. She is a dear friend and I truly believe her book is an amazing resource and that journaling is a great tool that all of us can use in our lives…it certainly has helped me a lot.

Feeling “Out Of Sorts”

Maybe it was because of the full moon. Maybe it was because of turning the clocks back an hour. Maybe it was because it was a crazy week at work.  Maybe it’s because I am facing a bunch of big decisions in my personal life.  Or maybe it was a combination of all of those things.  Who knows?  Regardless of the reason or reasons, I felt terribly out of sorts this week.  I haven’t been sleeping right.  My meditation practice has been all over the place – I had little to no focus.  All my normal routines were out of sync.  I even ended up with a migraine mid-week (and I don’t usually get those).  I just couldn’t seem to find my groove.  Everything felt off.

This isn’t something that happens often, but when it does it can wreck me for a good week or two…and I don’t like it. As with most people I imagine, I like when things in my life flow nicely, naturally, smoothly…and this week there wasn’t much flow at all.

I have tried, in the past, to just sit around and wait for it to blow over, but I have never been one to sit idly by and wait for something when I had the power to do something about it. Besides, that tactic has never seemed to help it move along very quickly. And so, I chose to rely on some strategies and techniques that I consider to be my “go to’s”…and they slowly, but surely, helped me move back into a place of balance.  Here’s what helped bring me back from the depths of feeling out of sorts – and I highly recommend them to anyone struggling with that sense of being out of balance in your life:

  1. Be patient with yourself – Becoming upset, irritated or angry with yourself (or anyone else for that matter) when things just aren’t feeling quite right in your life won’t solve anything. Having some patience and understanding with yourself can go a long way. Be loving and compassionate toward yourself.  Know that feeling out of sorts happens to everyone from time to time and that only through patience, understanding, and self-compassion will you rebound successfully.  As with many things, this too shall pass.
  2. Meditate – Even though my meditation practice is not at its best when I feel out of sorts, I know it is important to keep trying to meditate. And I know and accept that some days will be better than others. Some meditation is better than no meditation, to be sure.  The act of sitting quietly, being in the moment, and breathing goes a long way towards bringing yourself out of a state of imbalance or “ungroundedness”.  Using specific meditations which focus on or promote becoming more grounded can be especially helpful.
  3. Take time for yourself – I have found that when I feel out of sorts, the best thing I can do is take time for myself. That might mean curling up with a book, or sleeping in, or watching a movie…anything that is not part of the normal routine but feels good and supportive. Taking time for yourself is such a powerful way to help bring yourself back into alignment in the present.  Go ahead and give yourself permission to just do what feels good in the moment…it might just be the thing you need to turn things around.
  4. Take naps – Naps aren’t just for children, you know. In fact, I highly recommend them for adults, especially when we feel out of sorts. Being able to stop, take a break and rest can really help you collect yourself and get back to being grounded and feeling in balance.  And while this could technically be considered just another way of taking time for yourself, I have found naps to be so helpful that I put them in a category all their own.
  5. Walk away – Sometimes I just have to walk away from what I am working on for a while. I have found it is often better if I can come back later when my head is clear and focused. And while this is not always an option, when it is don’t be shy about doing it if it is helpful as you navigate the murky waters of being out of balance and out of sorts.

Truth be told, this past week I used all of these and then some and still struggled to shake that “out of sorts” feeling. Sometimes it is just like that. It happens to all of us.  But the important thing is to work through it- find the things that help you get back to feeling in balance with yourself.  There are so many things that impact us in the world – the weather, moon cycles, other people’s energy, interactions with others, emotional responses to situations, etc.  We may not be able to control those things, but we can control how we choose to respond to them…even when we are feeling out of sorts.  It’s worth repeating…this too shall pass.

5 Ways to Successfully Cultivate Your Own Unique, Mindful Approach to Life

Everybody seems to have an opinion on what we need to do in life in order to be happy. Some people will tell you that the formula for happiness involves a certain type of career or making a specific amount of money. Others will tell you it is about the type of car you drive or the house you live in.  Still others might say it revolves around your marital status and the number of kids you have.  For some it will relate to your education, while for others it will be all about your experiences.  So who’s right? –  Society? Your family?  Your friends?  Your co-workers?  You?  Whose formula will really bring you the life and the happiness you desire?

Maybe a better question is, does any of that really matter? Is there is a one size fits all formula for happiness? Does the formula for happiness even remain the same throughout a person’s lifetime?

Just as life is not static, neither will the formula for a fulfilling, happy life be.

So how can we cultivate an approach to life and the happiness we desire that is uniquely our own…a path that lights us up and gets us excited about who we are and what we are doing? How can we remain comfortable with our own path and stand strong in our choices if/when our path differs from what “everyone” says we should be doing? These are questions some people spend a lifetime struggling with, but the answers are out there.  You just need to have some tools to help you successfully navigate that journey.  To that end, here are 5 ways you can mindfully create your own unique approach to life:

  1. Meditate daily: Taking time to quiet your mind and silence the voices that repeatedly tell you what “everyone else” thinks you should be doing. Give your own inner voice a chance to speak its mind. Daily meditation is a powerful way to clear out the stuff that is inconsequential and to focus on what really matters so you can make clear, intentional, and meaningful decisions about what you want and how best to go about getting it.
  2. Be true to yourself: If something makes your soul sing, then you should do it. Whatever you choose to do in life, let it be something that feels good and true to you…and know it will not be what others will choose to do and that is okay. Don’t sacrifice who you are in an attempt to meet the expectations of others.   Our individuality and unique personalities are what make each of us special and important in this world – remember that.
  3. Create a Board of Directors: Who do you trust most for honest feedback? It could be a family member or a long time friend. Maybe it is a mentor or colleague.  Whoever it is, identify a few core people (no more than 3-5) and make them your Board of Directors.  If you find yourself in a space where you aren’t sure what is the best choice for you, seek counsel from those trusted individuals who know you well and who will be honest with you.  Often they can help you see things you cannot about a situation and with that clarity you can then move forward with a mindful decision for yourself.
  4. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people: Take a good look at the people with whom you interact daily. Choose to be with those who reflect the good in life…those who are positive and supportive. And while you may not get to choose some of the people you have to interact with on a daily basis (i.e. people you come across in the course of your daily routine at places like restaurants and shops, co-workers, etc.), for those you do have control over (the ones you choose to spend your free time with) choose wisely.  There is enough negativity in the world without adding to it by inviting negative people into your life.  Work on limiting your exposure to the negative people in your life and focus on sharing your space with people who have a good and positive energy to them – it will undoubtedly rub off on you and help you to cultivate an approach to life that brings you great joy and happiness.
  5. Embrace change: Life is ever-changing. Regardless of the mindful approach you choose for your life, things will come along and derail you. It will happen, but when it does, don’t allow that change or unforeseen circumstance to stop you from living life in a way that is true to who you are.  Look at it for what it is, a change.  What can be learned from it?  What do you want to do next given these new factors?  Mediate on it.  Seek counsel from your Board of Directors.  Embrace it.  You can’t change it, but you can control how you allow it to impact your approach to life.  And remember, since life is not static your approach to life will likely change numerous times – it’s part of the process so embrace it and allow it to become a catalyst for great things in your life rather than a road block.

 

Sadly, so many people work their entire lives trying to meet society’s expectations…trying to follow the formulas for success and happiness that everyone else says we should follow. And often, in doing so, they fail to meet their own individual need for happiness. It is a sad state of affairs that leads many to a life filled with unhappiness, stress, disappointment, lost opportunities and potential.  Be brave and break that chain in your own life.  Dare to create your own unique, mindful approach to life.