Tag Archives: Mindfulness

The Bittersweet Taste of Disappointment

Disappointment – the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

We’ve all been there. And that definition just about sums it up perfectly doesn’t it? That feeling of sadness or displeasure all because a hope or expectation comes crashing to the ground.  It’s sobering, frustrating, and even maddening at times.  There’s so much raw emotion wrapped up in that one word – disappointment.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 4 years studying meditation, mindfulness, and, to some extent also, Buddhism.  Interwoven in all of these things is a message of caution about attachment, for it is through attachment that we bring great suffering and misery to ourselves. When we attach ourselves to people, things, ideas, or situations we become very invested in how things progress or turn out between us and those people, things, ideas, or situations.  Of course what we often neglect to remember in the midst of all that is that we can’t control anything or anyone other than ourselves.  And as a result things seldom work out the way we wanted or expected them to turn out.  Hence disappointment.

For me, my study of meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism was an attempt to understand this oh so familiar cycle in my life and to learn how to release my tendency to become so easily and deeply attached in this way. I understand that if I become less attached to people, things, ideas, and situations then ultimately I will be disappointed less often, and in turn be on that emotional roller coaster less frequently. This was a very appealing concept to me.  And so I set about practicing non attachment each day – I meditate, I offer prayers and intentions, and I reflect on my choices and my feelings as they relate to other people, things, ideas, and situations, all in an attempt to attach less and be present more.

Sounds so simple, and in the midst of those daily practices I dare say it even can feel like it is relatively easy. However, life is relentless in its continuous hurling of curve balls. So just when I start to think I’ve got this non-attachment thing down, I find myself in or near a state of disappointment over something.  Grr!  Snagged again!  So, what am I to do?  Well, the healing process I have come to rely on recently is that I first feel the feelings and really look at them and where they are originating from.  Then I acknowledge the attachment I have assigned to the situation – it is important to be honest about that fact that I got attached in some way.  And finally I meditate and offer up prayers and intentions all focused on my continued work on nonattachment.  What I do not do is become angry with the other people involved in the situation – they are not to blame for my attachment.  I also do not berate myself or become angry with myself.  I know those things are not helpful and I also know I am still learning and growing – non-attachment is not easy.

I don’t know if I will ever reach a point where I no longer become attached or no longer feel disappointed about things, but I am finding that the journey to reach that point is powerful, filled with amazing growth opportunities, and completely worthwhile.

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.

Broken, But Fixable

So often when I look around I see so many signs that point to the fact that we are a broken society.  Life in general is hard these days and living our purpose and acknowledging our true self can be near impossible in this crazy, modern world in which we live.  And I recently sat through a presentation that thoroughly reinforced these thoughts and feelings.  The presentation included some alarming statistics about suicide, the number of people with mental health issues who are not seeking treatment, and the overall impact of such things on our work and personal lives.  Depression, drug & alcohol abuse, anxiety, etc.  The effects are wide spread.  I was struck by just how far reaching this mental health epidemic has become and by how broken we are overall as a people – not just because of the statistics themselves, but because part of what fuels the increase in those statistics is the societal messages we all receive about what it means, according to the society we live in today, to seek help.

We are all doing the best we can with what we have been given, learning from those around us who are doing the best they can as well…but still we find ourselves in this place.  So many people in our society are dealing with challenging things in their lives while at the same time lacking a knowledge of the tools that could help them better navigate those difficult times.  Instead, most people struggle to work things out on their own.  Sadly, this is something I see all too often in my work – so many people struggling to deal with any of a number of issues both personally and professionally, but unwilling to seek help, be it counseling or coaching, because they have been taught to believe that in seeking help they are indicating they are unable to handle things on their own…that they are weak or somehow flawed.

One in four people struggles with some type of mental health issue. What’s even more upsetting than that statistic is the stigma society places on seeking treatment. The societal messages are that you should just ‘learn to deal with it in your own’, “suck it up”, “get over it”, and “everyone else can handle it so why can’t you”.  Such shame and humiliation is cast upon those already struggling with so much.

The “shame of it all” is both in terms of the shame that the people struggling to decide if they should seek help or not feel as a result of those societal messages, but also that we as a society allow that stigma to perpetuate. Rather, we should acknowledge that life is hard for all of us, that we all could use a little help from time to time, and that seeking that help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

So what causes this societal stigma? Is it a lack of love and understanding of our fellow humans? Is it because we do not teach resiliency?  Is it just the chaotic, fast paced life we live in?  Is it the high expectations held for us, real or perceived?  Is it because we have not been taught how to ask questions and to make our own choices?  Is it because we have not been taught how to stand tall in the decisions we do make?  Or is it because of a loss of creativity and curiosity?  I am not sure we will ever truly know the exact cause(s), but one thing that is for certain is that the societal stigma attached to seeking help for even the mildest of stressors in our lives, such as every day stressors like finances, relationships, work, or caregiver stress, is slowly killing us.  We need to find a better way.

The reality is that everything is connected – we can’t leave our problems at home or at work. The mind/body connection is real. Pretending otherwise only makes things worse.  We need to begin recognizing how hard it is to admit the need and/or desire for help.  We need to see it as a strength and not a weakness.  If we are going to help each other through this life, we need to start by creating awareness of the problem and then developing a culture of caring.  We may be broken, but we are still fixable.  A good place to start is to become more mindful of our words and the messages we send with them.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” – Yehuda Berg

Lessons

So I took a few weeks off from writing my blog. I just decided I had too much going on and something had to give. I also didn’t want to quickly write a blog post simply so I could say I published something every week like I have up to this point.  Instead I spent a few weekends, when I would otherwise do my blog writing, enjoying uninterrupted time with friends and family.  I set a boundary for myself and stuck to it.  It was some much needed recharging time for me.  But it was interesting how guilty I felt doing it.  That little ego voice in my head was quick to tell me I was a slacker and that if I were any good at organizing my time I could have gotten it done.  But you know what?  I stuck to my decision despite that voice and I learned some valuable lessons along the way too – lessons that have been recurring for me quite a bit over these past few months…

Lesson #1 – Let go of the need for perfection. This is a really tough one for me. I swear perfectionism in actually hard wired into my DNA.  But I am gradually learning that it really is okay to deviate from any plan you originally set for yourself.  In fact, if you allow for a little variation it can even result in creativity and growth opportunities.  A few lessons on the periphery of this one are forgiveness and acceptance.

Lesson #2 – Take things in stride and don’t let them bother you so much. Easier said than done, no? But that’s the goal.  That’s what we should work towards, right?.  Relax, breathe, and take one step at a time.  Things are seldom as bad as they initially appear.  Often we just need to take a little time to put them into the proper perspective.  The related lessons here are open-mindedness and flexibility.

Lesson #3 – Accept the interruptions of life…enjoy them and learn from them. Life is a never-ending journey filled with sharp curves, road blocks, and lots of construction. Whether you like it or not, it is going to be that way, so why not just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Subsequent, related lessons here include patience and being present.

I have heard it said that the universe continues to send things our way until we have learned the lesson intended for us.  I certainly can say from my own experience that is true, at times painfully so.  My desire for perfection and to maintain whatever standard I set for myself is often so rigid that I create quite a bit of suffering for myself – all of which is easily remedied when I step back, breathe, accept the present moment as an opportunity to learn & grow, and then simply let it all go.

What’s your area of growth opportunity?  What lesson is the universe still helping you to learn?  These are powerful reflection points, so don’t overlook the importance of spending some time pondering them.  Embrace the lessons coming to you.

“We repeat what we don’t repair.” – Christine Langley-Obaugh

 

Say It Softly

As humans, we want and need feedback…suggestions…criticism – call it whatever you want, we ask for it continually.  We crave it yet we cringe or run away when we receive it. We are dying to know what people think of us, our work, our outfit, our hairstyle…you name it, we want to know what people think. But the moment that feedback comes, we often want to curl up in a ball and die because it isn’t exactly what we were hoping for, or worse yet, it is downright mean.  And yet we only grow as people if we face the feedback for what it is. Such a strange relationship we have with feedback.  So convoluted.  So confusing.  So frustrating.

Here’s a recent personal example to further illustrate my point: I asked for feedback on short workshop I recently did and I received quite a bit of feedback from the group of people with whom I worked to put together the event (as I had hoped I would – since we all had worked to put it together I was anxious to hear their thoughts on the final product, delivery, etc.). Most of the feedback was the typical niceties (good job, I think it went well, etc.). Some people mentioned the sound issues we had (while completely valid and quite frustrating, that was unfortunately beyond our immediate control…but helpful feedback nonetheless).  But there one piece of feedback that had an edge to it.  It seemed to be a list of complaints with no acknowledgement for the work that went into it.  It was as if there was nothing good about the whole event.  I wanted to run from that feedback when it came through in my email.  It came across such that it triggered that oh so familiar ego voice in my head which began questioning if I was good enough, if I knew what I was doing, etc..  It was the kind of thing that allowed the ego mind go to town.  And unfortunately I don’t know the person who delivered the feedback well enough to know their true intention, but nevertheless that email got my mind rolling down a dangerous and unhealthy path.

And on some level I also found myself feeling some anger about it. Who was this person to do nothing but complain. They didn’t have to make all the contacts to set all this up.  They didn’t have to deal with old equipment that didn’t work right.  They hadn’t spent hours preparing and practicing.  My mind got stuck cycling between the anger and insecurity I was feeling after reading that email.  I had to force myself to close my email and walk away for a few hours.  Okay…until the next day actually.  I needed to let it go, to give myself time to put it into perspective.  So I went home and meditated on it a bit  (after my mind seemed to fixate on it for a while though).  I needed to distance myself from the content, reflect on what were valid concerns (like the sound issues), what was perhaps an issue of someone not reading previous emails and then complaining that they didn’t know something, and what were areas where we truly could work on and improve.  That time away to reflect, rather than immediately responding to the email, was essential I believe so I could respond in a more loving way.  I needed to do that so I could loving accept the person and the feedback and move forward in a more positive way.

And now, after processing it, I realized one additional thing – I really just want people to say whatever they have to say with a little love. I would prefer they land the plane softly. Otherwise it feels like people assume we intentionally screwed something up, like we went out of my way to do something they didn’t like – which of course is not usually the intention or case.  In reality I believe it’s a communication thing, which is a good thing because that is something that’s fixable moving forward.  It is a learning moment.  But I also realize my desire for people to say it a bit more softly is likely a pipe dream and that in reality I need to hone my skills in the area of personal development so that when I do receive difficult feedback it doesn’t make me want to run and hide.  Perhaps by modeling that which I wish to see others do I will influence some portion of the population to be more gentle and loving with their words.

And so to close today’s blog, I offer a few words of encouragement to those giving feedback – don’t operate from a viewpoint that someone intentionally did it “wrong”, but instead offer suggestions from the heart with the intention that everyone benefits. And to those receiving the feedback – don’t respond to difficult feedback right away, rather give yourself time to process it properly and find a way to respond (if a response is even necessary) that is productive and of service to all involved.

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.