With fresh eyes I begin again in meditation. Sounds and thoughts pass by. Just like the breath. I am the silent witness. Waves of awareness Swirl around me. Can I follow a sound From inception to conclusion? What stories and assumptions do I attach to them? Can I bring peaceful presence To my everyday life, To each encounter, To each thought? I begin again With fresh eyes And an open heart.
Maybe it was the title of the book that caught my eye on that fateful day in the College Hill bookstore. Or maybe it was all that pent up teenage angst. The contradictory belief that I was The quiet and good girl. I was helpful and nice But a mental punching bag for bad boys And my big brother blaming My very existence for Ruining his life. I was an innocent But carried so much blame and shame. Too much for my 17-year old self to handle. That book opened a doorway And I felt the words jump off the page Viscerally into my ears, mind, and heart. And I could finally breathe. Uninhibited, unrestricted I was accustomed to hiding the cries And sharp sips of air from sobbing. I was trying to intuitively calm myself But not finding the support or space to calm down. I was made to feel weird and awkward For my self-soothing efforts. I felt at peace for the very first time. Comfortable with my steadiness of breath and mind. This was my very first time practicing meditation with just this book by Cheri Huber as my guide. Oh, how I craved that feeling. It was an incredible high, I was filled with love and acceptance of who I was on that very day. Looking back, the framework of a Mindful practice had come into focus. I was empowered, Elated that inner peace was truly possible. My meditation practice has evolved since then. I typically listen to guided meditations these days. I have new teachers that I follow: Sharon Salzberg, Hunter Clarke-Fields, Kris Carr to name a few. But it all started with that one book that has brought me to new heights. Clarity, insight, calm and peace are always within my grasp And I am forever grateful.
My 8 year old daughter (V) is distance learning. We spent the weekend clearing off her desk, removing the paper clutter; out with the old to make space for the new. My 4 year old daughter (L) has been away from daycare and home since March. Some days she has separation anxiety when one of us leaves. Today was a big day for her. She would be away from both parents for a good chunk of the day, around seven plus hours.
She protested. She didn’t want to get dressed and had become accustomed to pajama wearing most days. Comfort and play was key. She balked at the shirt Mommy chose and picked her LOVE emoji shirt instead. She wanted to play and this new routine was keeping her away from her toys and imaginative play. V got dressed and was watching a YouTube video on her iPad.
My husband announced, “We have to take a first day of school picture!” Begrudgingly, the girls posed in front of the bush. L held her pink bunny and a few toys from home to take for the car ride. Adorable smiles and a pose of the leg. Click!
We packed the car and headed out. L asked me to play music on the radio. With only commercials or annoying pop music to choose from, I pressed play on the cued up CD and held my breath. I didn’t know what I was going to hear. Fingers crossed. It was Depeche Mode. There was silence from the backseat. No protest. We drove out onto the street.
The first day. It was the first day of seeing a handful of school buses on the road. I said, “Look, a bus! It’s everyone’s first day too.” We pulled into the familiar lot of her former daycare. The one that was closed for so long. I heard her take a deep purposeful breath. Then another. She was calming herself. I thought, she is listening. She sees and hears everything. She’s been seeing and listening to me practice yoga and meditation, and demonstrating calming breaths and she internalized that. It became a useful tool in her toolbox to calm her anxiety. That is a win in my book and I don’t want to discount it. I was a proud mama.
We got out of the car. The daycare’s slide was wrapped in caution yellow tape. No trapezes swung on the bare playset. All the grownups were wearing a mask. We had to take a different entrance. No parents are allowed inside the building. L’s prekindergarten class will help form the foundation for her to be ready for a successful kindergarten next year. She held onto her pink bunny, now sealed in the school-required Ziplock bag. We held each other as she cried and didn’t want to let me go. I let out a tear too. The teacher said “Good morning!” And handed L a welcome goodie bag. She gave us a few moments to say goodbye and then led L into class. Luckily, I parked in front of her classroom window so we could wave and blow kisses.
It sure is a different time to be living in. Today I’m back to work. It’s the first Monday in a long time. My husband is at home managing his telework and setting up V for her day of google meets and independent work. We will make it through. We’ll run into each other’s arms at the end of the day, check in and share the events that unfolded. We got this. It’s only the beginning of a new chapter. A return to somewhat normalcy and we will always have each other.
We start out as children and young adults learning and following the footsteps of those that came before us. They made it possible for us to exist! Now it’s my turn to create my own imprint and footprints for the next generation to follow; to trust my inner wisdom; to acknowledge with gratitude all the facets of life. When I’m unsure or the path seems misguided and leading me off course, if I get still enough, the path gets illuminated before me and I can be the guidepost for those that will follow in my footsteps.
I spent the weekend on a mindfulness for mothers retreat at Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford, CT. I had so many amazing insights and breakthroughs, which can only happen when we slow down and retreat. I wrote a lot in my journal. I took full advantage of all the yoga and meditation workshops. I kept my iPhone in the drawer in my private room and I went within. The group was led by Hunter Clarke-Fields, the mindful mama mentor. You can listen to her podcast and take advantage of her free resources at: https://www.mindfulmamamentor.com/
We were a small group of nine mamas. I learned new tools and tips for my mindfulness journey. Mindfulness and meditation are not an attempt to strive, self-improve, or add to my day as another to-do. In this retreat I was reminded about my why. Why do I meditate and do yoga most days? It gives me freedom and a sense of relief, as simple and profound as that.
As the retreat was coming to a close, I still hadn’t visited the labyrinth. So it was my own personal closing ceremony to integrate the group sharing and insights. I was alone. It had snowed the day before and I had to follow the footprints that led to the labyrinth. The path in the labyrinth was gravel and not shoveled. I saw footprints in all directions within it. I was able to find the path and stay the course. At one point because of the snow, I was unsure how to get to the center. When I got still, I saw that no one had gone right and when I did, I was back on the path. My gatha or mantra came to me in the center of the labyrinth: “Peace with this, Peace within me.” I am ready to be the guidepost for those that will follow my footsteps.
It’s 19 days into 2018. And I’ve been inspired by three lovely ladies to start the New Year by putting self-care front-and-center.
January began with Kris Carr‘s 3 Simple Habits to support all your goals. It really set the foundation for prioritizing my self-care.
- Keep it simple. Don’t tackle more than three goals.
- Include buffer time. Set realistic deadlines so I don’t set myself up for failure.
- Add more, subtract less. Instead of cutting out that evening chocolate or snack, I grab an apple before I reach for that treat.
Last week I participated in Susan Hyatt‘s miracle week setting yourself up for a fantastic New Year. It was five-days long. Each day had an uplifting video which included a 12 minute health/body challenge. My daily self-care soared.
- Create a hygge corner. It’s a cozy nest to unwind and de-stress. I live in a small house with small children, so my couch became my hygge. I neatly folded a blanket and had a fluffy pillow that was just mine. Then I filled my tote bag with a journal, three inspiring books, two uplifting card decks, and a mindful coloring book with pencils.
- Mindful mealtime. At home we usually eat with the TV on or at work I tend to scroll through Facebook during my lunch. It was a challenge at first to put the technology away. Now I’ve enjoyed Facebook-free lunchtimes for over a week!
- Declutter your wardrobe and find three amazing outfits. We used Mari Kondo’s philosophical question, Does this item spark joy? That pink frumpy sweater and the itchy “work” sweater that I bought at Saver’s thrift store many years ago finally got tossed!
- Media detox. This next tool has been a life changer. Unroll.me brought my email inbox management to the next level. I used to check my email and spend so much time deleting emails rather than reading them. Now I’ve added those unwanted time-sucker emails to unroll.me. They all get rolled into one email a day. So the emails that I want to receive appear without any added distraction.
- Tiny goals and building consistency. Small, attainable goals have the momentum to create lasting change. With the idea that tiny goals rock, Susan suggests that we choose one fun and tiny health goal that can be realistically and enthusiastically committed to. My goal is to sit in my hygge corner for 12 minutes a day. And if the couch is being used, I can just grab my tote and go to another room and unwind.
Susan Hyatt also hosted a motivation hour webinar. The biggest take-away I got was Dial It Up and it only takes two minutes. She suggests doing it while you brush your teeth in the morning.
- Assess how are you feeling or what you are thinking about.
- How do you want to feel?
- What can you think or do to get that feeling?
Here is an example. Before I get out of bed in the morning, I tune in to my thoughts. Am I beginning to plan all the little things I have to do to get me and the kids ready for school? What will traffic on my commute be like today? Are my to-do’s already forming?
How do I want to feel instead? I want to feel a sense of completeness since it’s the end of the work week. And I want to cultivate presence so I can savor the moment with joy.
What do I have to think or do to get that? I can prioritize my self-care. I can delegate the small things so that my plate is a little less full.
I’ve been practicing Dial It Up for three mornings in a row and I have enjoyed mornings without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.
And heartfelt gratitude to Hunter Clarke-Fields‘ Mindful Mama Immersion. Five days of podcasts with experts and advice from mindful mamas who share their struggles and stories. I might do a future blog on the takeaways from that experience. Hunter’s wisdom and guidance came at the right time while I was forming my New Year goals. She reminded me that meditation and mindful movement grounds me. And I can choose to become aware of my thoughts.
For example, when we are sitting at the table as a family, I can notice my thoughts. Sometimes I feel rushed and on a time-line. But my thoughts are not all urgent. I don’t have to share every single one (negative thought, fear, etc.) that pops into my head. I can let it muster for a breath and the thought usually precipitates. Then I’m able to enjoy myself, the meal I’m eating, and the moment. And everyone around me is happier too.
When I feel aligned and mindfully present, I can truly listen to my child or my husband. We all want to be validated and heard. I know that’s one of my triggers. I just want to be acknowledged and appreciated. And if it doesn’t happen as expected, I can feel resentful, hurt, or frustrated. When we’re lost in thought, we can lose those moments of connection.
So what does self-care mean to me? It’s ever evolving. I finally realize that how I start my day sets me up for how I want to feel for the entire day. I begin with Dial It Up. Then I do a few gentle yoga poses to feel grounded instead of hitting the ground running. In the morning I choose to journal before I check my email. At work I take a break and meditate for five or ten minutes. After lunch, I take a walk in nature when possible, weather permitting this time of year. I enjoy my green smoothie and a piece of fruit as a snack. I spend the last few moments of the workday to reflect on the day, plan for tomorrow so I can set myself up for success. And at night after the kids go to sleep, I devote at least 12 minutes to sit in my hygge corner.
What does self-care mean to you? I’d love to hear your comments.
Here is Hunter Clarke-Fields free 3-5 minute guided meditations for you to enjoy.
We are all connected. And the speed of information has advanced our society into a global community. You want to learn about X? What does Google say? Information is literally at your fingertips if you happen to own a smartphone. And knowledge is power.
Even though my family got rid of cable years ago, we still have access to the news from our phones and apps on our TV console. I love that we can choose what to watch when we want to. But we do channel surf through YouTube and you can’t escape the collective fear that is ever present. The recent tragic events and acts of violence have pulled at my heart.
I love working in Providence. It’s a city rich in history and I’m proud to be a native Rhode Islander. It’s a beautiful city to walk around: the Brown University campus, the financial and downtown districts, and historic Benefit Street. But I’m tired of living in fear. If a car comes racing by or a strange box truck is around, I tense up and anxiety takes control. My leisurely walk is interrupted and I’m terrified for a moment, especially if I’m around city hall or a federal building. It never used to be this way. Fear never played such a prominent role. I started working full-time a little over a year ago. And I loved the city. I drank in the architecture, the people on their way to work, students walking to class, and the waterfront. It was a welcome sight.
But over these last few months, the anxiety has been building. Yesterday as I was walking to the parking garage, a box truck stopped right in the middle of the street and began to back up. Normally this wouldn’t have been an issue. There’s construction everywhere and the street was a one-way. But the truck seemed to be backing up and keeping in pace with me as I walked. Cars behind the truck began to honk, and it seemed like the truck was going to back up regardless of traffic. This odd behavior made my anxiety soar. I started to run, and all I could hear was the incessant “beep, beep, beep” as it continued to reverse. I had the worst panic attack. I feared it was going to blow up right then and there next to the financial district. I had visions of me getting into the garage on the fifth floor and being toppled over by the above floors during the explosion. I couldn’t wait to get out of that garage.
Once I got behind the wheel and started to exit, I shouted, “I’m tired of being afraid! I’m tired of living in fear! I’m tired of freaking out over a truck! I just want to be able to walk in peace without feeling terrorized!”
I don’t have an answer during these crippling moments. I just try to deepen my breath. I remind myself that meditation helps ground me and I should meditate more and journal more. Events will happen that are beyond my control. And one thing I can control is my breath.
How do you bring calm when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed?