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

Turn Towards the Light

I am great in a crisis. Down to the wire is my jam. I can make things happen fast when I need to. For instance… someone is hypothetically coming to drop by my house in 15 minutes. I can whip my kitchen and living area into makeshift shape so fast you would think I was Samantha from Bewitched with a magical nose twitch.  I can prove it. Just do NOT ask for a tour or to see any bedrooms.

I can claim that my procrastination comes from my calendar being maxed out by work, volunteering, kid’s activities, etc. but if I am being honest I was a procrastinator before I had just cause. It is one of the most frustrating things about me for many people who love me…I am sure of it.

This part of my personality, the part that is always right on time to 180 seconds late for 99.9% of the meetings and/or events I attend, struggled with the concept of self-care in a preventative manner. Deep breathing was always a go to coping skill in an anxious moment, but taking the time to mindfully breathe in the moments of my day that were filled with joy, peace, excitement, etc. was a less natural process for me to adapt to. I have a habit of cramming my day full. I know what you are thinking and YES, I have dug deep and self-examined to determine if busyness is a form of numbing for me…but I conclude that (more times than not) I just really like to carpe the shit out of each day. I like to do “all the things” and live to tell about it.  (That is not to say that I have not been known to use distraction with a list of responsibilities as a way to avoid the tough stuff, I definitely am guilty of running away from struggles.)

Because of these realities of my personality and lifestyle, accepting and implementing preventative self-care has been an invaluable for me. I am perpetually “fine” until I am not. I have a high threshold for stress, but most of the time the straw that breaks my back is seemingly anticlimactic. To prevent these moments of losing it is crucial that I schedule self-care into my day to day activities. For me personally, self-care looks like:

  • Yoga
  • Mediation
  • Working out
  • Being alone
  • Updating my planner
  • Updating our family budget (not fun, but necessary)
  • Getting ahead of my housework (also not fun, but necessary)
  • And of course, God willing…a massage, pedicure, or yummy dinner out that I do not have to prepare every once in a while.

These are the concrete, tangible activities that I go to for reprieve and peace.  These moments provide opportunity to fill my cup, charge my batteries, fuel my engine; I think you get the idea. However, there is also a mindset to acknowledge here. What mindset is indicative of someone who is resilient to stress and crises? Brené Brown has a lot to say about resilience, specifically related to shame. Her book, Rising Strong™, is all about getting up after you fall flat on your face. She says that people who understand their values, are willing to be vulnerable, offer one another and themselves compassion and empathy, and who make an effort to recognize their emotional reactions to life events and process them in a way that allows rumbling and introspection rather that remaining in an emotionally triggered vacuum are more resilient. If you have not been living under a rock, then you have heard about the self-care sensation sweeping the nation, Girl Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis. Hollis discusses real life hurdles, overcoming them and persistently pursuing your dreams. Her mindset is contagious and she is creating a movement of empowered women who want to be better at being authentic and confident…and who want to remember their worthiness.  Hollis says:

“know this one great truth: you are in control of your own life. You get one and only one chance to live, and life is passing you by. Stop beating yourself up, and dang it, stop letting others do it too. Stop accepting less than you deserve. Stop buying things you can’t afford to impress people you don’t even really like. Stop eating your feelings instead of working through them. Stop buying your kids’ love with food, or toys, or friendship because it’s easier than parenting. Stop abusing your body and your mind. Stop! Just get off the never-ending track.”

Like many moments in her book, this truth might be hard to swallow. However, there are times that a temporary crisis can turn into a lifelong battle as a result of our mindset and misguided coping skills. Recognizing and EMBRACING the power that we have over our own life is crucial. We will undoubtedly face grief, crisis, stress, heartbreak, trauma and other unexpected and hard realities; however, we are more likely to be resilient in the face of these realities if we take care of our minds, bodies and souls on a regular basis. Making ourselves a priority in the manageable moments, helps us to survive the moments that feel insurmountable. There will be moments that wreck our souls and deplete our resources; this is the dark part of the human experience. Those moments may not be avoidable, but knowing ourselves well enough to recognize our needs in the darkest of moments can lead to healing.

Brené Brown says so beautifully,

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”

We cannot allow the overwhelming, difficult, devastating moments define our entire identity. However, the value of embracing our entire truth, our entire story (even the stuff we wish we could deny) gives us power. When we talk about the parts of our lives that are difficult, we are less likely to be consumed and fall victim to them. When we stop trying to achieve perfection and recognize that we WILL fall short and we DO NEED help, we are going to have the ability to experience increased joy and increased connection with one another.

Crisis often translates into feelings of shame, resentment, failing, not being enough, etc. We have to decide to not be victimized by our struggles. We must learn ourselves, recognize our individual needs, know when we are emotionally hooked/triggered, develop a set of go to coping skills and choose to take the reins when life seems to take us for a ride. The dark days our inevitable, life is a constant struggle. Our time here on this Earth is an opportunity to grow in our faith, cultivate connections and rise above the pain and to choose to embrace joy and peace. Rather than allowing anxiety and fear of what you do not know control your existence, prepare for the tough stuff by fostering resiliency today and each day. Develop your self-care regimen and pursue a mindset of empowerment and resilience. Susan Grimm says:

“Even in the grimmest of circumstances, a shift in perspective can create startling change.”

Our mindset, our perspective can lead us to chase after darkness or confidently turn towards the light. I will be over here looking for the sun friends.

Peace, love and laughter,

Megan

down angle photography of red clouds and blue sky
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger 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)

Mom Guilt is Real: Let that Shit Go…

Being a parent is beautiful, exquisite, and painful. It challenges you and fills your cup and sucks the life right out of you again. It is a journey full of ups and downs, unconditional love, growth, pressure, and joy. A huge amount of that pressure, we place on our own shoulders. We establish unrealistic standards of perfection surrounding our ability to parent and believe that everything we do must be a manifestation of the fact that we love our kids more than anything in the world!

The cleverest parties, stylish clothes, perfect pictures, well thought out lunches, fresh spring water that I collected myself infused with organic cucumbers that they drink on the way to their private lessons for their select league. The standards that exist today are impossibly exhausting. My kiddos will be plugged in to activities they love.  I will encourage them to drink water. And…they will most likely have lunchables or crustables in their lunch box. Not for every meal, but for packing lunch on a Monday morning, damn straight. Many of you reading this might cringe at the reality of sending processed foods in my kids lunches, I ask you to understand that I choose the battles that I face. I know where I succeed as a Mother and I know what standards will set me up for failure. I seek health and fulfillment for my babies: physically, nutritionally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, etc. etc. etc.  I also seek this fulfillment for myself and my husband.  As a result, there are some areas where I simply cannot pretend to seek perfection. Choosing my battles and firmly prioritizing my parenting values leads to me existing as a more fulfilled mother. I must remind myself daily to approach motherhood with my intuition and my experiential wisdom, meaning I know my heart and I know my babies, and (because of this)  I will make choices that I feel will best serve my family. This looks different for each parent and each child. We are all incredibly unique — hand crafted with our own gifts and flaws and passions.  I challenge you to use those gifts and passions in your parenting style.

Now…let me pause for a moment, as a social worker I have had the unfortunate opportunity to witness the reality of neglect and abuse. There are children that are not cared for adequately and who are put in dangerous situations at the hands of their parents or caregivers.  This is NOT wisdom or intuition. This is more often mental health, addiction, brokenness, or just evil. I am never condoning neglecting your babies.

Which leads me to a topic that I refer to often in my practice…guilt vs. shame.  And a bit further than that, helpful guilt versus unhelpful guilt.  Let me use some examples to help make the differences between helpful guilt, unhelpful guilt, and shame easy to wrap our minds around.  I am going to use my own life experiences with these feelings because improving myself has been wrapped up in distinguishing between thesefeelings and living a less shame filled existence.

Helpful Guilt:

Yelling. Man I can yell. I have a sharp tongue and a temper. The further out of touch I am with my inner self, the less I pray and meditate, the less I sleep, the less I take care of myself…the more I have a tendency to yell. Some mornings are rough.  I can be short with my spouse and super irritable with my babies. If I sense a level of helpful guilt in the moments, it can help me turn the morning around. When I yell at Rad for saying “Momma I need to tell you something” for the 2700th time in the last 15 minutes and his response is, “I just wanted to give you a hug.”  I feel the ache of immediate guilt. I need to slow down, take a breath, and hear my babies.  They need to listen, demonstrate respect, have manners, etc. but I can also take pause and let them have a voice even though I may have pressed snooze 7 times and am in a frantic rush.  I believe in the power of sincere apologies as a Mom. I am flawed…TRUTH. I do not want to project my struggle with perfectionism onto my children, so when I make a mistake I want to own it with grace. I take a moment to speak rationally and calmly. Then, ideally, we can all move forward in a better manner.

Unhelpful Guilt:

Ok…this morning has come and gone. I yelled. I apologized. We loved on each other and had a good rest of the morning. However, I cannot shake seeing the disappointment on Rad’s face when I yelled. I am allowing myself to believe that he is still sad, just sitting there thinking about how Mommy yelled. He probably thinks I am a terrible Mom. I robbed him of a fun and relaxed day, because every 3 year old boy just sits around over-analyzing his interaction with his Mom from 7:00 AM right?!? WRONG. He has moved far beyond that moment. He knows he is loved. He loves Mommy endlessly. His day is awesome. I need to let my irrational thought process and over-analyzation go. It is just masochism to be that unrealistic about the impact of a brief moment.

Shame:

Now this is where it gets real. Rather than feeling guilt over a mistake or irrationally dwelling on a decision I made, shame is about questioning my worthiness. Shame leads us to question who we are, what we bring to the table, and can impact our core identity and values. Guilt is about what we did. Shame is about who we are. If I allow myself to believe that I am a terrible person. If I journey down a path of self-loathing and genuinely questioning my capacity to mother my babies, I am entering into a shame storm. I talked about my latest shame storm in my blog on struggling with authenticity. Shame is heavy and hard hitting. It gets you in the gut, heart, and soul. It can rob you of confidence and passion. We must not allow the comparison trap of parenthood turn into something that makes us question our worthiness.  We have flaws, but we are and always will be worthy of love and belonging. We are tethered into the fabric of this world and we have purpose.  The National Institute for Clinical Application of Behavioral Health has a chart that perfectly separates guilt, unhelpful guilt, and shame:

NICABM-Infographic-Shame.jpg

I talk about self-kindness often. I believe, as parents, we must be kind to ourselves and live in a space where grace pours out freely.  There is not one thread of my being that believes that we were called to judge one another or to make other people fighting their own battles feel like they are less than because their unique experiences and values make their rhythm look a little different. What I know about my journey in mindfulness, self-care, authenticity, self-kindness, and as a mother is that when I learn to see each human as someone who is carrying their own torch, winning their own war, or overcoming their circumstances RATHER than someone who is doing life better than me…I have way more compassion and grace. Compassion and grace not only for them, but for myself.  Let’s cheer each other on people! I do not want to be the exact same kind of mother or parent as you…I like being unique. I want my kids to be proud of dancing to the beat of their own drums. With standardized testing, strict routines at school, and the comparison traps that kids face with social media…let’s challenge ourselves to not put our own baggage on their already overloaded shoulders. I want my kids to feel more of my joy and less of my need to be a visually perfect parent.

Social media will not be my standardized test for success in parenting.  Fostering kindness, compassion, empathy, bravery, and confidence in my babies will be my standard for success.  You are all doing an incredible job!!! Your babies feel loved and cared for…do you? If the answer is no, I encourage you to give yourself some grace and let your unrealistic standards for yourself go. Let that shit go. The world is crazy enough, you need to be nice to yourself.

wild world

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

I write and speak often about self-care. Self-care is not always luxurious, but it is necessary. I have said before, it may not be a bubble bath with a glass of wine. It might be more beneficial to spend time getting caught up on paying bills or doing laundry. Having our lives in working order is as much self-care as the moments we take to relax and treat ourselves.  A bubble bath will always be way more enticing than laundry, but feeling  caught up or ahead on the many to-do’s that fill my list certainly takes a load off my shoulders.  Self-care is multifaceted and requires intentional effort. Today, I want to talk about the way we speak to ourselves, the truths we tell ourselves, and the way in which we support ourselves in moments of pain.

I saw a post on Facebook once that seems to come to mind often when I am discussing being kind to ourselves. It said something along the lines of, “Make a list of the things you love…how long did it take for YOU to come to mind?” The goal of the message was to help people realize that they did not think about the importance of loving themselves. How often do you think about loving yourself or demonstrating self-compassion? Do you struggle with the concept of showing yourself compassion?

Kristen Neff authored the book Self Compassion, in this (highly recommended) book she describes in detail 3 elements of self-compassion: 1) Self-Kindness 2) Common Humanity 3) Mindfulness. Neff is clear in distinguishing where self-compassion ends and self-indulgence begins. The best metaphor that I can draw on is that of parenting. When we demonstrate compassion to our children, we do not let them go on feeling sorry for themselves, throwing tantrums in moments of distress, or seeking inappropriate or destructive coping skills.  If my first-born Lennon falls down in softball, I check in with her to make sure she is ok. Given there are no major injuries, I acknowledge her pain but encourage her to keep working hard towards her goal of finishing practice or winning the game. I am kind in my approach with her and allow her the necessary moment to check in with herself and make sure all is well. I do not chastise her or yell at her for falling, but I do encourage strength and bravery as she moves forward from that moment.  When I “fall down” or make a mistake at work, as a parent, or as a wife I, at times, do not naturally offer myself the same kindness, patience, and compassion. I often chastise myself or get stuck analyzing why’s and how’s rather than focusing on moving forward in the moments as they pass. I get stuck criticizing myself rather than acknowledging my own pain and fostering growth and learning from those tough moments.  I get stuck in the cycle of perfectionism and shame, which is the opposite of self-compassion.  However, when I cultivate moments of kind awareness when I am struggling or hurting, compassion pours out of me with increased ease. When I slow down long enough to non-judgmentally recognize the humanity in failure and the inevitability of disappointment from time to time, I find it more natural to move forward with self-compassion.

So why and how does this relate to mindfulness? Now I just (briefly) discussed kind awareness and non-judgmental recognition. That is the essence of mindfulness: taking moments to remove expectation and criticism, to simply exist in the moment. Social Workers are trained to “meet people where they are.” We are taught to remove labels and previously determined expectations. We are taught to actively listen and engage in learning with clients as we assess their language, nonverbal communication, and other cues to help determine a treatment plan. How ridiculous would it be for us to not check in or engage in learning to establish their course of treatment? What if we scolded them from the get go and just advised that they just get their lives together? I would be willing to bet they would NOT be coming back for a follow up session.  So why is it in parenting, in marriage, in a work setting we show others kindness and compassion with ease but we face such difficulty in embracing our own needs with this kind of openness and love?

Maybe this lack of self-compassion is driven by perfectionism or shame?  Perhaps our ideas about what success looks like for us are too rigid. We might have ourselves in a box and falling outside of that box confuses us about our identity or image. Maybe we are terrified of failure? Could it be that we just do not put effort into actively loving ourselves?

Regardless of the hurdles that create a lack of self-compassion in your life, there are steps that you can implement to cultivate increased compassion, kindness, and love in the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself in difficult moments. The first step is to allow moments of that kind awareness that we previously discussed. Meet YOU where you are! How are you feeling in this moment? Receive your feelings with love and let go of judgement.  If you find this kind awareness difficult to achieve, try implementing a mindfulness practice into your daily life. I enjoy guided meditations and use them frequently in my personal mindfulness practice. Having the assistance of a guided meditation helps me hold my focus and set aside certain periods of time where the only goal is presence. The Self Compassion  website has multiple guided meditations that are 5-25 minutes, meaningful, and easy to implement into your practice. I also love The Chopra Center and have purchased multiple meditation experiences that help guide and direct my practice.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it not only allows the space to gain familiarity with yourself it also helps to increase the gray matter in your brain associated with compassion. The Harvard Gazette discusses a study in the article “Eight Weeks to a Better Brain” the findings of an 8 week study of individuals who implemented mindfulness meditation practice into their daily lives. They “found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”  We can exercise and enhance our brain’s capacity to demonstrate compassion more naturally and with ease. That is too cool!!!!

I challenge you to recognize the potential impact of mindfulness and self-compassion in your life. As you gain self-awareness, take time to recognize the tone of your self-talk and your tendency to criticize yourself. Make the decision to change your tone and demonstrate increased love and compassion in your struggles. Recognize that you deserve the same kindness that you show to your loved ones and continue to charge down your path with bravery and strength!

Until next time!

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 🙂