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Living Mindfully

Good morning!

I just wanted to share the opportunity I was given to be a guest on the Decatur Public Library Podcast. I had the opportunity to define mindfulness, speak at length about the benefits, guide a brief STOP method practice and offer advice about starting your individualized mindfulness practice.

The definition of mindfulness I have devised is, the practice of holding space to offer loving, kind aware as to your present reality.

Recording this was SO fun!! I hope you enjoy and find it to be informative.

 

 

Living Mindfully – Long Overdue Podcast

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Are you in AWE of your life?

I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world – present and in awe. – Anne Lamott

How often do you slow down long enough to “smell the roses?” Do you step outside at night to witness the majesty of a meteor shower or a sky full of stars on a clear, crisp night? Can you envision the last time you were in awe of your surroundings? This could be the end of a long hike that brings you to the edge of a powerful waterfall, it could be the first time you saw your child take a step, or it could be the moment you fell in love with your person. Put yourself in that place for a moment right now, recall the wonder and excitement. Man, I wish I could bottle that feeling up and keep it on hand for moments that feel routine, mundane, stressful, defeating. Spray a little awe around in the moments that rob us of childlike astonishment and lead us to forget the world’s expansiveness. What if we could daily acknowledge the brilliance, beauty, and transience of this world?

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I took a little personality quiz on the Greater Good Science Center website today called “The Awe Quiz.” I found that I have a tendency towards engaging in situations that challenge my thought process, make me feel curious, leave me with the childlike awe feelings that we should all seek. I am not sure that I would have had the same results one year ago. Prior to engaging in a journey that encouraged presence and awareness, I think I was missing out on opportunities to live an AWE-some life.  I am thankful for the people in my journey that have helped me to redirect my energy.  I remember the initial moments of resistance when my sister encouraged meditation. I remember doubting the impact and questioning my ability to commit to a new practice. My willingness to engage in moments of wonder and awe is one of the many benefits of living a more mindful life.

I remember being in awe of the sky when I was younger, I have rekindled this love for looking up. Sunrise, sunsets, clouds, the rays emitted from the sun though those clouds, stars, the moon and its phases all remind me daily (and nightly) how brief and ever changing this moment is. It takes mere moments to miss the evolving colors of the setting sun.  I love bringing the attention of my children to the beauty of the sky. I love asking them what they see, what colors stand out? What shapes do they see in the clouds? Absorbing their reactions of surprise and awe is contagious. It is good for the soul. But I wanted to dig into why these moments are so memorable and impactful and potentially how to create increased access to this feeling.

I found an article on the Huffington Post website titled, How Awe-Inspiring Experiences Can Make You Happier, Less Stressed and More Creative. That’s what I’m talking about…let’s dig into this goodness. This article provides various definitions and results from multiple university studies surrounding the emotion of awe.  It discusses a foundational paper:

In “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual and Aesthetic Emotion,” psychologists Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley and Jonathan Haidt of New York University outlined how exactly awe works and what affect it has on us. Awe consists of two qualities, Keltner and Haidt say: perceived vastness (something we think to be greater than ourselves), and accommodation, a need to assimilate the experience of vastness into one’s current mental structure. Keltner and Haidt describe awe as an emotion “in the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear.”

Awe is the sweet spot between pleasure and fear. I can only imagine the brain’s chemical reaction to these moments. It is no surprise that we cannot exist in these moments perpetually; doing so might remove the component of wonder. I can also gather that what induces feelings of awe for me is not necessarily going to trigger the same reaction in everyone else.  Our experiences with wonder are all unique to the fabric that makes us who we are.

The Huffington Post article goes on the discuss the reality that  experiencing awe provides a healthier relationship with time, boosts creativity, increases our ability to be hopeful and grateful regarding our life, improves our relationship with nature, and aides in transforming our lives.  Abraham Maslow’s description of “peak experiences” seems like another way to describe feelings of awe. He says that peak experiences are indicated by:

“disorientation in space and time, ego transcendence and self-forgetfulness; a perception that the world is good, beautiful and desirable…He emphasized that moments of transcendence could take the form of an intense religious or spiritual experience, but it could also come from the simplest moment of love, beauty or natural wonder. If nothing else, awe teaches us, as Maslow suggests, that there might be something just a little bit magical about everyday life — a realization that can help us engage with life from a place of joy, wonder, and gratitude.”

I recognize a connection to my discussion of human connection in my post about The Importance of Finding Your Tribe when discussing the benefits of awe. When we can have human connections or awe filled experiences that help us get outside of ourselves, we can live happier and more fulfilled lives. When we are not driven only by ego, status, and pride…we are more apt to practice gratitude. Imagine how minuscule the past due bill, lost job, or moment of defeat seems in comparison to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls,  the incredible life beneath the surface of ocean waters, the birth of a baby, the first time your child speaks the words “I love you,” or the intense beauty of the setting sun.  There are certainly moments that take our breath away, moments that give us no choice but to lose ourselves and be completely consumed in that moment. But what if we are missing out on opportunities to experience the simple beauty and love that can leave us in wonder on a daily basis? Our focus could use some re-shifting from time to time. Perhaps we should make time to slow down and look up more often.

My favorite Emerson quote is tattooed on my back:

Live in the Sunshine, Swim the Sea, Drink the Wild Air. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I try to live in this manner but the more I become consumed with duties, roles, responsibilities, and to-do’s the more distracted I become.  The reality is that I am only gaining more responsibilities as my children get older and become more involved little humans. Therefore, my perception needs to shift. Traveling with my family needs to become a priority. Getting in nature needs to become a priority. Looking up long enough to recognize the beauty in how quickly our life is passing by and the value of relishing in every moment that I possibly can need to become priorities. I think we can live in awe and be ridiculously productive and involved in our communities. For me, mindfulness and presence has been the key to this shifting perspective. Releasing situations or stressors that I have zero control over frees up space in my heart and mind for awe, wonder, and gratitude.  The next step is to seek out moments to experience awe.

Find out your tendency towards experiencing awe…take “The Awe Quiz” now!

Looking to experience awe from your desk…check out this gorgeous series of photographs from National Geographic

Images in this post are all courtesy of the crazy talented, Janey Cooper Photography.

Mindful Awareness and the 5 Senses

During my counseling sessions, I consistently try to leave clients with a practical tool that they can appreciate the justification and implementation of in their daily lives. Mindfulness feels impossible to achieve in the beginning, but every step towards mastery provides growth and change. I said before, mindfulness is and continues to be a practice for me! I am not a master or a guru. I am simply trying to live my best life and, although, that is laughable on most days…I am still doing my best. I can also tell you that my compassion, awareness, and presence have been forever impacted and improved by implementing this knowledge into my life.

I have previously mentioned the importance of utilizing mindfulness in interactions with my family. One method I use often with my kiddos is to help them tune into their five senses. The senses, like the breath, are relatively straight-forward to tap into when you are seeking a focal point for your mindfulness practice. Despite the seemingly straight-forward nature of using this as a tool, I believe we do not take moments to appreciate what the world may bring before us in this manner. We are horribly distracted.

In a New Yorker article, Joshua Rothman reviews the book “The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” (written by Matthew Crawford.)  He discusses Crawford’s description of distraction as making a choice or taking control. Rather than patiently waiting for the light to turn green, I am going to scroll through social media. These commercial breaks are bumming me out; I am going to check my snaps. I am going to listen to the latest episode of The Bachelor while I work because I am not a slave to my 8-5. Crawford says, “Distraction is appealing precisely because it’s active and rebellious.” It keeps you busy and less affected by the boring, slow, hard, or tough moments that we face on a day to day basis. I appreciate rebellion. I am a rebel by nature; I love autonomy and do not appreciate feeling controlled. When I feel like I have lost my grip on my world, I will go get my hair changed or a new tattoo. I seek out moments to feel empowered and in control of the situation. But the reality is, more often than not, my rebellion is merely a distraction from the uncomfortable path towards healing what has gone awry to make me feel as though I have lost control in the first place. Perhaps we all should meet the tough stuff head on rather than pour energy into the art of distraction?

Rothman also does a great job of discussing Crawford’s idea that our distracted culture could be the result of experiencing emptiness in regards to our spirituality. We are out of touch and disconnected. To fill this gaping hole in our souls, we become busy. We numb our pain with distractions. Crawford says, “Distraction is the opposite of joy, which becomes rarer as we spend more time in a frictionless environment of easy and trivial digital choices.” Again, perhaps it is time that we tune into ourselves, our souls, our nature, our spirituality and make steps towards feeling and experiencing life more wholeheartedly.

I believe our 5 senses can help us achieve a life with more wholehearted consumption of our immediate and tangible surroundings. This practice can aide in actively removing distractions and enhancing awareness. I often refer to a brief walk into work from the parking lot as I began to practice mindfulness. That particular morning I had a few moments to spare before I needed to get in my office (this is rare…do not be fooled, I am running late 99.09% of the time) so I played a brief guided meditation on my Chopra Center app.  As I walked into the hospital, I noticed vegetation and life that I never previously acknowledged. There was beauty that I was missing each and every day. I did not have a desire to disrupt my peaceful walk with mindlessly looking at my calendar for the 20th time that morning, I just allowed myself to relish in my surroundings.

There are so many moments where drawing mindful awareness to your 5 senses can enhance your experience. How often do you truly breathe in the aroma of your meal and take time to absorb the flavors of each bite that enters your body? When is the last time that you took the time to recognize the way that the warm water feels running down your back in the shower? Have you taken the chance to turn the television off and set your phone down so that you can hear your children laugh and play? How many times have you driven somewhere and not seen any of the beauty between point A and point B? We are missing our lives as they pass us by friends. I challenge you to choose moments and embrace the full experience with your whole heart and your 5 senses.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Going for a walk or run? Try it without the headphones. Implement a sensory experience in something you already make a priority. What do you hear with each step? Leaves crunching. What is the temperature? How does the sun feel on your face?
  • Grabbing a cup of tea or coffee first thing in the morning? Take time to feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, breathe in the aroma of your refreshing and awakening drink, enjoy the flavors as they are introduced into your body. Take moments to breathe and enjoy these moments of heightened awareness.
  • Time for dinner? Appreciate the appearance, texture, aromas, and flavors of your meal. Mindful eating has various benefits, not only will it make your dining experience increasingly enjoyable it can help you recognize the point in which your body is satisfied minimizing over eating and discomfort.
  • Having a conversation? Remove distractions, make eye contact, observe the person’s nonverbal communication, and genuinely hear their words. This can remove unnecessary misunderstandings and create a more compassionate interaction.

Tell me what practices your implement and find helpful! I am excited to hear from you. Until next time…

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

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