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.
The Unexpected Delight
After morning yoga. After I’ve rearranged the furniture. I’ve cleared out space mental and physical. I welcome the movement, the sighs, the popping joints, the twists, the surprising strength. The mental games that try to take me away from the moment. When I arrive in my mind and body, I find soul full awareness. I am grateful for this body. For the time carved out just for me. There is no shame as my strong thighs hold me upright. The meanness of cultural norms in what a pose should look like what a body should look like. I honorably greet both ends of the spectrum and invite a small smile to my lips as I inhale and clear out the mental clutter once more. The morning birds are making loud short bursts even through the soft rain. They too must meet their needs and feed that hunger. It feeds my soul and theirs to find a shared delight at another glorious day to be on this earth. To occupy the same space. Breathe the same air and each feel free in our own way. Free from shame. Free from stiffness and aches. Feeling strong and in flight as I move my body just like the little birds outside my window. We may not see the sun today but we each welcome its arrival when it greets us once again.
In winter sunrises always take my breath away. A return to the light. In summer it’s the opposite. We are surrounded by light. The humid sticky air combined with the sun does not provide reprieve. We all walk, jog, bike, scoot, drive or wait for the bus under its unrelenting rays. How quick we get accustomed to complaining. Too much sun. But then after a few stretch of rainy days, we once again greet the sun almost like a stranger staring into our eyes. No escape. We love it. We miss it. We wish for shelter away from it. Each day, regardless of where we are and how our life is shaping that day, the sun appears. Our very lives depend on it.
The water needs to be evaporated so that the clouds can form. It’s a cycle and it never complains or takes a day off. The stained paint on the gate dries and fades over the years. The gate would rust and fall off its hinges from weather and wear. Yet the sun shines on. The lettuce, the soy, the garbanzo and pea, the wheat that forms my sandwich once stood open wide under the sun. It sustains us all and I am forever grateful.
The sheet is spread across the warm grass. Little ants climb on to see what’s for dinner. I find a shady spot but I’m never too far from the glorious sun.
So simple and grounding
I’ve been reading “Eat With Intention” by Cassandra Bodzak. I was feeling inspired one morning at breakfast. And I created this mindful eating mantra:
May I be nourished
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I feel satisfied
May I feel energized
May I feel complete
So simple. It grounded me to look at my oatmeal, to pause and take a few breaths, and not just devour the food but to savor a few moments.
And that’s all we really have right now: Just a few moments. To be here in the moment. To observe, pause, and try not to change it. To avoid the urge to pick up my iPhone. It’s so easy to distract myself.
If only we could savor those moments. Life is brief. I know my kids will be grown and out of the house in a blink of an eye. The baby/infant days are now toddler moments. And nursings have been replaced with morning cuddles. How I savor them. I try not to rush to the next thing to get ready for school and work. And at the end of the day, while my toddler reads her books, I enjoy playful imaginations with Legos, My Little Ponies, and the like with my 6 year old. I am grateful that she still wants to play with me.
I suppose my mantra for mindful eating can be transformed to all the moments:
May I be present
May I be loving
May I share joy
May I feel gratitude
May I feel loved
May I feel joy
I’m going to use this mantra of loving kindness this weekend. They always seem to fly by so quickly.
May we all savor the moments.
Our wild and unruly thoughts are not the whole story
We are all hurting. If there’s one thing we share in common, it’s that we all experience pain and/or suffering.
Our thoughts can hold us hostage and sabotage our present moment. For example, when I got my new job, my husband suggested, “Let’s spend some time celebrating!” In an instant my mind shifted into forward thinking. There’s childcare needs, a new wardrobe to purchase, and a general fear of the unknown. That moment to celebrate was ever so brief. Sweet but not fully experienced, not completely felt. In hindsight, perhaps I should have taken a moment to savor the excitement and opportunity and let a feeling of gratitude set in.
It’s over too quickly and we can’t get it back. I had a similar experience when my 19-year old cat Max died. My mom and I never followed through on our plan to memorialize him. We were in a state of grief and I had to take care of my toddler. We didn’t get the chance to properly mourn him. As a result we suffered on our own and grieved alone. Instead of holding each other, we kept it inside. A few years have passed since then. And I don’t know if we will ever be in that space again.
Our thoughts can run wild if we let them. They can rob us from the rich and healing experience of being fully present: to how we are feeling or what is happening in this moment. Now I try to pause when I notice my mind going rampant or rehashing the same story over and over. I take a deep breath and think, “I’ve already spent enough time, space and energy on this.” I soften and I take a moment to notice my surroundings. “How is this story, forward or past thinking distracting me from the NOW? Is it causing me undo stress?” Of course, it is.
Then I ask the question, “How do I want to feel instead?” Usually I want to feel relaxed, present and connected to my family.
And the final question, “What can I do to make that feeling a reality?” Usually it’s taking a few box breaths or utilizing one of my self-care tools. I’m a work in progress. There are days when I forget my tools and I get lost in thought and distraction. I lose my grounding and connection to myself and the present moment. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m continuing to learn and re-learn what works for me, and I will always continue to do so.
Now it’s your turn. How do your thoughts affect you? Are they distracting you from what’s going on right now? Are they causing you undo stress? If so, how do you want to feel instead? And what can you do to make that feeling come true?
I send you peace.
What does self-care mean to me?
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.
The Apple Break
I wanted to start good habits when I began to work full-time. I freelanced for many years working outside of my home, and I knew this new position would keep me more tethered to a desk. We are supposed to get two 15-minute breaks along with our lunch break. I noticed coworkers going outside for their cigarette break. But I craved to move my body and breathe fresh air. I wanted get out of my work mindset a bit, take a real break to renew and recharge myself for the rest of the workday. So I invented the apple break.
I love working in downtown Providence, RI, because it’s so walkable with many options to choose from. There’s historic Benefit Street. I can stroll along the Providence River, or go downtown to window shop and people watch. Even the Roger Williams National Memorial is a convenient destination.
I would get outside rain or shine and start to walk in one direction, eating my apple. Sometimes I’d pick up the pace and walk quickly, sometimes it was a more leisurely stroll. And as soon as I finished eating the apple, I’d change direction to turn around and head back. Then I always slowed down my pace to walk mindfully. I’d take deep breaths and take a moment to notice my surroundings. I would observe the ivy climbing up a tree trunk, the fragrant blooming flowers, the breeze, or simply marvel at the changing color of the maple leaves.
And I found it was easy to spend one of my 15-minute breaks outside.
Now that I’ve been working full-time for a year, I can reflect on this new habit and how I’ve incorporated it into my daily work schedule. It’s definitely easier to get outside when I’m in Providence as opposed to the other courthouses around the state. I prefer fresh, local apples that are in season. And when I couldn’t get apples, I’ve been able to enjoy smoothies on my walks as well.
Now that autumn is around the corner and it is officially apple season in New England, I’m ready to restart my apple break habit. I can’t wait to visit the farmer’s market and stock up on crispy, fresh apples. My 15-minute break will be more pleasurable. It is a true break in the literal sense. I’m away from my desk, moving my body, and invigorating my senses while eating delicious fruit. Then I’m ready to tackle whatever challenges may come my way.