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

The Practice of Pause

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause. Mark Twain

I sometimes find myself toting a “badge of honor” surrounding my busYness. You know what I mean right?? “Well I have so many things to do and I have taken on so much responsibility, my time is incredibly valuable because I must be the busiest person ever.  I have 3 kids, 1 full time job, 3 side gigs, I sit on multiple boards and committees, but what else can I do for you?”  I squeeze too much into my days and find myself running right on time or 5 minutes late to every meeting, commitment, birthday party, etc. This behavior and lifestyle is fueled by years of well-defined perfectionism and people pleasing.  I feel pulled to say YES to all the things.  All. The. Things.  Taking on more than I can handle is not something I should hang my hat on. Learning to achieve balance in my life is a more valuable endeavor. Thank you Jesus that I discovered the beauty of balance and the power in the pause before I ran myself ragged.

In my journey with mindfulness, self-awareness, and (in lots of ways) awakening…I have learned a few things. One is that I enjoy an active lifestyle. I like going, moving and being productive. I like adventure. I like to get my kiddos out of the house. I enjoy the community-centered mindset of getting plugged in and making an impact. For me, self-care is about achieving a balance of saying NO when I really need to, but also saying YES when I want to and making sure that I do “all the things” in a way that promotes well-being for me and my family.  Something that has been life-changing for me is the beauty of the pause. Taking pause in moments when I feel overwhelmed, when I am triggered or feel a rush of frustration, right before I have a scheduled session with a client, moments before I speak before a room full of people, when I finally sit down to nurse my sweet Maya, when my kids ask me to play with them, when I take a walk to recharge my batteries.  At times, simply taking pause before I commit to or refuse to take on a new task makes all the difference. These (and many more moments) are enhanced or improved by my willingness to practice taking pause. This pause provides a moment to check in with myself, to provide a level of control regarding my brain’s instantaneous capacity to finish the story or create worst case scenarios and it allows me to soak in the beauty and gratitude of each moment. Kristin Armstrong says:

It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.

That is a perfect way to describe what I have found in my own pause practice. Drawing my attention to my breath. Checking in with my body to learn more about why I am feeling the way I am feeling. Am I truly overwhelmed and anxious, or did I just drink one too many cups of coffee? (oops, often that is EXACTLY the reason) Soaking in my surroundings. Shifting my perspective to move forward in a mindset of awareness, gratitude and openness. What I love is that pause/rest/awareness often produces new beginnings and motivation. It is not about ceasing activity forever, it is about taking the time to be genuinely mindful in our actions and responses. I remember when my sister was first encouraging me to implement meditation into my daily, self-care routine I would think about how I did not have time to stop for that long. There was no way that I could just not be productive for long enough to create a meditative space. I did not understand the ways that mindfulness and meditation can be wrapped into our daily activities. I also had this ridiculous idea in my mind that I had to be forever chill and perpetually relaxed to be successful at mindfulness. Mindfulness is a coping skill. Mindfulness is a way of life that transforms the perspective with which we view ourselves, our surroundings and our purpose. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with productivity, in fact, it enhances performance and focus.

I wanted to talk about some of the methods that I have used to implement pause into my day to day life:

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The STOP Method: I have referenced this activity more than once in my blog, because it is effective and simple.  This one minute breathing space is a guided thought activity that is perfect for a shift in perspective or to relax when you are feeling triggered:

S: STOP what you are doing. Close your eyes. Put your work down or your task away for this moment in time.

T: TAKE a deep breath. Draw your attention inward and focus on controlling your breathing pattern. I enjoy tactical breathing in this space.  Inhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4, Exhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4. Put this on repeat until you feel that you have been able to clear your mind and focus fully on your breath.

O: Observe your surrounds, your thoughts, your feelings. Are you seated? What does the support of the chair feel like? Are you hot, cold, relaxed, tense, etc.? Think about your 5 senses.  What do you hear, smell, feel, etc.? If specific thoughts and feelings are present, take a moment to non-judgmentally acknowledge them. Simply having the ability to define your current emotional state of being is empowering.

P: Proceed into the next moments with an increased level of positivity, awareness and openness.

This method can be used in various ways throughout your day. When you first wake up, rather than grabbing your phone to check notifications, take a moment to check in with yourself and get oriented to your immediate environment.  When you are in the shower, take pause to experience the cleansing and relaxing task at hand. As you are sitting at your desk and you find yourself in a state of distraction, practice the STOP Method to regain focus.

Mindful Eating: In the world of numbing, food is my go to drug of choice. If I am stressed, sad, frustrated or bored, I am much more likely to make bad nutritional choices. Taking pause before I ask for another bowl of chips and salsa, drawing my attention inward as I open the fridge at 10:00 at night, or checking in to see if that bowl of ice cream is meeting a nutritional need vs. an emotional need has created a level of control with my food intake than anything else. Taking pause allows you to check your intentions and motivations. Being mindful of my choices rather than acting in reactive or impulsive ways helps me to honor my values and personal goals. Mindful eating can also enhance the way that we experience flavors and textures of our food. Slowing down to experience meals is a great way to practice mindfulness.

YOGA: On days where I am feeling especially overwhelmed, yoga allows me to create space for mind and body relaxation. It certainly requires the ability to remove distractions as you commit to the practice. This practice has taught me me to build increased awareness of my body and the places where tension and stress might hide. The concepts taught in yoga practice can be utilized in many facets of life and interaction. In my role as Employee Assistance Program Manager at Wise Health System, I have developed a program in partnership with our fitness facility that offers employees a Yin Yoga class during their lunch breaks twice weekly. The goal is to not only provide them will rejuvenation in those 2 hours of yoga practice each week, but also to help them learn how to separate, pause and practice self-care in the midst of stress and demanding work loads.

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Photo by Roman Davayposmotrim on Pexels.com

Personal Time-Out: Oh the good old “time out.” As a parent, I certainly use this one with my children. This gives them time to breathe, calm down, think about and discuss their behavior with me or their Daddy. I have found that I could use a time-out almost as often as my 6 year old. I facilitate Parent Café’s with the Wise Coalition for Healthy Children which is a great community initiative sponsored by Cook Children’s Hospital. We utilize Nurturing Parenting curriculum and in the Stress Management presentation we hand out magnetic timers. We recommend that parents use these for their own emotional regulation as much as for timing the time-out punishment when their children make poor choices.  Taking pause in moments of conflict, stress and discipline can transform the way that we react to triggers. Whether it is with your spouse, children, co-workers or anyone else try to implement a pause when you are feeling triggered. Rather than allowing fear, anger, embarrassment and disappointment regulate your emotions…take a breath, try to rationally connect the dots in your brain and step away if you need to. Commit to returning to resolve the conflict, but sometimes taking 5 minutes to shift your perspective can be a gift to yourself and to the people in your life.

With the simple addition of these pause practices; we can be more in tune with and in control of our emotional reactions to life. This practice is full of struggle in the beginning, but just like a new workout routine or rehabilitation for an injured muscle… your body and mind will become more capable of taking effective pause and the process will become natural with practice and dedication.

Where have you learned to take pause in your life? How has slowing down to enhance awareness changed your experiences? I would love to hear from you and how mindfulness is transforming you and your relationships.

Peace, love and laughter,

Megan 🙂

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Photo by Josie Stephens on Pexels.com

Learning to Live with Intention

Intention.

Intentions.

Intentional.

This word, these words…are words that I have often struggled with, but also words that often present themselves during counseling sessions. My personal struggle with the word intentional is that I have never felt like I was intentional enough as a friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother, etc. I am not an awesome gift giver. I typically do not function with a great deal of advance notice, like 48 hours in advance is my average planning time. I may throw something on the calendar further out but the nitty gritty planning and prep happens last minute. This is not a representation of how invested in or how much I care about something, it’s the way I am wired. But I OFTEN say, we may be susceptible  to selfishness, forgetfulness, or other weaknesses but that does not mean that we cannot take steps and make changes so that we are better and ever-evolving humans.

I feel so loved when people are intentional with gifts, gestures, and acts of service. I am quick to compliment what I see as intentionality. Making intentionality a priority for me in regards to relationships continues to present me with a great deal of room for growth. It’s a work in progress. I love with enthusiasm, but planning ahead with creativity is something I am continuing to focus on. Because of this focus, my 2017 One Little Word was Intentional. If you have never heard of the One Little Word experience, check this wonderful website out. This is something I focus on each year.

I chose this word to focus on external relationships; I had no clue that perseverating on the word intentional would change my relationship with — ME. Studying and meditating on the meaning of intention and bringing intention into multiple spaces and places for me led to:

  • Recognize the thoughts that drove my decision and behaviors.
  • Focus on being present in interactions with others.
  • Bring attention with intention to my needs, my rhythm, and my purpose.
  • Appropriately gauge my expectations, in turn, reducing opportunity for resentment.

The perfectionist people pleaser chose a word to improve the way I poured out love but drawing awareness to my thoughts, words, and actions allowed me to grow in my understanding of my inner self. I was over simplifying the meaning and importance of intention. My journey with this word and concept allowed me to recognize the needs and expectations associated with relationships. The coolest part – in gaining awareness of my own needs and expectations, I believe I have become a better friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother, etc.  Not in the way I planned, but in a manner that promotes long term health in my relationships.

Recognize the thoughts that drive you.

Do you ever stop to consider what drives a decision or behavior? Why do you need to have that fight? Why do you need to take that drink? Why do you need to make a drastic change in your life? Why is saying those words important at this moment? What are your intentions? Is there necessity, purpose, or kindness in your intentions? Taking pause to consider the driving force behind our actions is monumental and simple. Think before you speak. Consider the collateral damage of your potentially misguided intentions. If you gather, after taking pause, that your decision is necessary, kind, or purposeful then keep on keeping on. However, if you draw awareness to lofty, selfish, or cruel intentions…maybe it’s a better idea to reflect on how you got to that point rather than reacting.

Focus on being present in your relationships.

Intentionality can be broken down and as simple as eye contact and avoiding distraction during quality time with those that you love. The willingness to focus and give the gift of time to someone is becoming more and more priceless with each addition of technology that makes work, news, to-do list, and noise more accessible. While we all have obligations and responsibilities, setting aside precious moments with your family and friends to sincerely hear them and respond thoughtfully is necessary. Promoting moments of genuine and focused connection helps those you love to feel valued.

Bring attention to your needs, rhythm, and purpose.

Are you intentionally finding moments to connect with YOU? I believe that when we are not in tune with the parts of us that make us unique we become incapable of holding authentic space with family and friends. If we cannot identify our needs, if we are out of touch with our individual rhythm, and if we have lost sight of our purpose…how can we have meaningful connection with others? Talk about imposter syndrome? Journaling, meditation, music, dance, nature, exercise, and a variety of other outlets can help us develop an inward awareness. Find moments to recognize the parts of your heart and mind that feel real to you. Recreate these moments as often as you can. When we grow in familiarity with ourselves, it can help to enhance emotional regulation because of the deeper level of understanding we achieve regarding our feelings and reactions.

Gauge expectations and reduce resentment.

As a people pleaser from way back, I can tell you a thing or two about resentment. Not clearly gauging and communicating expectations, leads to feelings of disappointment and resentment.  Check your expectations. The best example of this I have heard comes from Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. She tells a personal story about parenting. When one spouse is out of town, the other spouse can manage to juggle all the roles and responsibilities with minimal stress. They make it work. When both parents are in town, busy weekends end up leading to increased conflict and frustration. The root of this is when we know we have to make it work alone; we manage with minimal emotional reaction. When we anticipate that having our partner around will make the busy weekend stress free because they will manage half of the responsibilities  AND we do not clearly communicate these expectations…we end up feeling ALL the resentment. We must create realistic expectations and have assertive communication about said expectations. No one is going to read your mind. Without sharing your hopes and dreams for days, weekends, or life in general with the people that you do life with, you set the stage for bitterness and resentment.  This is wrapped up in the word INTENTIONAL, because this behavior was something I had to intentionally implement into my life, specifically my marriage. My hubs is great at a lot of things, reading my mind is NOT one of them. If I clearly express my plans and the role I hope for him to play in those plans…we have the chance to either agree to move forward or make amendments to my unrealistic ideas. This level of intentional and assertive communication has been meaningful in minimizing resentment and enhancing our connection.

In my One Little Word journal, I listed these synonyms for intentional: conscious, purposeful, willful. If we set out to live a mindful life…we must learn to speak, act, live, and love with intention. We have power in choosing our reactions to the waves that crash into our lives. Enhance your awareness, define your values, and live with intention. I am thankful to have had this journey with these words. Exploring these concepts with an open mind led to a complete different end result that I planned on and it was such a necessary lesson for me to learn.

Let me know your thoughts on the meaning of intention. How do you implement intention into your life and relationships? I want to hear from you and I would love for you to subscribe to my blog!

Peace love and laughter,

Megan

photo credit: angiedevon (instagram)

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.

Surrendering and Resilience

Surrender and resilience are both words that come up frequently in my line of work. As a social worker, mental health professional, and employee assistance provider the meaning of resilience and the art of fostering resilience is woven into so many of my days. At first thought, resilience is about strength, hardiness, steadiness, ability to withstand pressure. During an exquisite Yin Yoga session, the concept of surrendering flooded my mind as the instructor urged us to settle into the pose, surrender to gravity, and allow your body to go where it needs to be.

Breathe. Surrender. Breathe. Let go. Breathe. Surrender.

The concept of elasticity is important to the definition of resilience. Elasticity is the ability to return to previous form, the ability to bounce back.  Elasticity allows you to bend without breaking.

Have you ever seen the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” It makes for a great laugh. The goal of the protagonist, Peter, is to travel to Hawaii to get his mind off of his adulterous ex-girlfriend. In one scene, he takes a surfing lesson. Chuck, his surfing instructor, keeps encouraging him to “do less.” “The more you do, the less you do.”  This guy is hilarious and has all the chill. While his methods are questionable, I think what he is aiming to get Peter to accomplish is the art of release. Peter needs to surrender to the flow of the waves. He needs to release his grip on his heartbreak, fears, failure, regrets, questions, and whatever else holds him back from being in sync with the ocean and, more importantly, with himself.

I think we can all relate to the moments of life where we insist on holding on with white knuckles to control, expertise, success, being right, being seen as we wish, and the other traps that comparison and the need for power can lead to. Right? Have you been there? Holding so hard to something? Being too rigid in your thought process? Building a wall between you and moving forward in life and relationships because of your need for control or perfection or avoidance of vulnerability?

When we white knuckle life, we can miss out on the moments or perspectives that help us bounce back after heartbreak, failure, or trauma.  In Yin Yoga, the more you are able to surrender to the pose, the more your body benefits from the stretch. This practice not only begs for physical surrender, but emotional and spiritual as well. In this case, the less you do…the more you do. Surrendering your thoughts and preoccupations creates a meditative experience that is truly rejuvenating. Letting gravity and breath carry you through the extended posture hold creates a necessary release of toxins and emotions.  When you face resistance, breathe through the discomfort and allow time for your body to release into the position you are seeking.

These lessons must carry over into our day to day lives to be optimally beneficial. We must learn to release our expectations, judgement, resentment, and fears. We must learn to breathe through the uncomfortable and trying times. We must grow comfortable with the idea of letting go of control when we know we do not truly have any real control from the start. We cannot continue to white knuckle time, money, and power and also hope to experience true joy, gratitude, and love.

In pursuit of resilience in the face of critical stress, trauma, grief, loss, and work/life balance we must aim for elasticity. It is possible to hold on to values and convictions while also taking pause to see the world through the lenses of others. It is possible to be ambitious and motivated while also making self-care a priority and releasing the binds of perfectionism. It is possible to speak your truth, but walk in grace and empathy to allow others to find and proclaim their truth. It is possible to be vulnerable, and brave, and steadfast, and flexible all at once.

I encourage you to take a moment to surrender the thoughts, fears, regrets, shame, etc. that hold you back. What creates tension in your body, mind, and soul? Close your eyes imagine the heavy weight taking form, floating to the sky, and leaving your sight. Surrender the parts of your life that make you feel powerless; holding tighter will only make you grow tired. Practice the art of surrender. I hope that letting releasing whatever binds you today help you to bounce back to your intended path.

Find a Yin Yoga class near you to help you manifest the practice of surrendering in your life.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan