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.
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:
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.
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.
Over the last hard hitting and heavy week, I have discussed, pondered, lost sleep, and discussed some more the concept of surviving in times that feels so hard and so dark. I have tried to wrap my mind around the desperation and brokenness that people must feel before they submit themselves to a story that ends in suicide. Maybe it’s my perfectionism, need for control, or possibly just the INFP in me that wants to find a path towards healing for those broken and isolated souls. I find myself fixated on gaining understanding surrounding the proliferating rate of suicide in our world today. Perhaps the concept of preventing continued suicide is beyond my capacity and reach; however, I firmly and passionately believe that initiating a conversation might be THE answer to just one person’s plight towards healing.
Did you know the rate of suicide increased 25% from 1999-2016? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide was double the rate of homicide in 2016. A New York Times article from 2016 says:
“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. . .
The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study.”
Personally, I think there is no coincidence that our consumption of all things internet, social media, etc. rampantly increased at about the same time. I created my Facebook in 2004. About when did you create your social media platform for identity, communication, and entertainment? I was not nearly as obsessed with social media until it was at my fingertips each moment of the day, how many hours a day to you spend mindlessly scrolling, comparing, judging, etc? Let me briefly step off of my soap box to say that I use social media to promote my blog, my side business, to share memories with friends and family…I value the ease and simplicity of communication within this format; however, it cannot be our only source of socialization. Our desire to be constantly connected, I argue, has led to a lack of genuine human connection. I talk about this more in my post Constantly Connected. Despite our ability to be “constantly connected,’ isolation and social isolation seem to be on the rise.
Quick fact about suicide rates, the states with the historically highest suicide rates are Montana and Alaska. Social isolation in Montana is a problem. Due to geographical realities and cultural norms, people are disconnected from one another. While I recognize that social isolation is not a problem for every community in these states, I cannot deny the reality that rural communities (typically) provide increased opportunity for isolation.
The fascinating reality of our world today however, is that we can be in a room with 700 people in a city buzzing with activity and have our minds and hearts elsewhere. We are rarely mindfully present in the space we exist. We are engaged in multiple conversations over various platforms at any given moment. We no longer have to be literally isolated by our geography to exist in a state of isolation.
A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.”
We are replacing our previous inclination to engage in community in our cities and neighborhoods with online interaction. When we go to dinner or to a party with friends, we spend a fair chunk of time staring at our phones. Our comfort in communicating with a keyboard is exceeding our ability to have face to face, meaningful dialogue fueled with nonverbal communication and all the delightful feels that cannot be adequately expressed without eye contact. I love my emojis people, but there is not an emoji or GIF that can fully impress the depth of love, the elation of joy, or the desperation of grief. We need human connection. We need vulnerable interactions to truly understand love, joy, grief, and every other exquisite emotion that makes up our human experience.
Not only does our infatuation with social media lead to less face to face interaction, it creates a breeding ground for comparison. The comparison trap leads to either feelings of inadequacy or judgment. I am either not good enough or at least I am doing better than that guy. If you follow my blog at all, you know I love Brene Brown – a shame researcher. She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Humans are built for and called to community. We are meant for connection. However, we find ourselves avoiding genuine connection, getting lost in the trap of comparison and wondering why we feel overcome with shame and loneliness.
I am not attempting to solicit support for a ban on social media. As I stated previously, I think our digital connection and access to social media equips us with resourcefulness and allows a different type of engagement. However, I think we MUST recognize the value of human connection and find a balance in our lives that leads to feelings of connectedness. I am also not making a claim that digital connection is the sole cause of isolation and suicide in our world today. However, recognizing the shift in culture, the decline in face to face interaction, and the crumbling of community as we once knew it is relevant in this conversation.
As a mental health professional I recognize that mental illness can be a terminal diagnosis. Despite lifelong battles, medication regimen adjustments, years of therapy…some people do not survive. But what if a willingness and opportunity to connect boosted the brain functionality of even a small percentage of those that are at risk for completing suicide, would reaching out make it worth it? Would promoting a conversation about the beauty of human connection be valuable? I think so.
Make an effort to engage in raw, vulnerable, and real interaction with someone today. Rather than comment on a post or stalk their profile, reach out to a friend that you haven’t connected with recently. Plan to spend valuable time in person. Plan to be genuinely present and mindful during your time with loved ones.
Check on your people. I love the post circulating that encourages us to “check on our strong friends,” we know that suffering does not discriminate. If you know someone that struggles with shame, comparison, loneliness, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety or any other human experience that is hard to overcome alone…reach out. Help them recognize their worthiness. If you are struggling with those realities, release your fears and step into a moment that provides connection. This world is way easier to survive if we are in this together.
These are great resources for suicide awareness and prevention. If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, know that there are so many places to turn for support. We are increasingly capable of overcoming the pain of mental illness with support. Talking about this stuff is hard, but I will leave you with the quote I keep on my email signature. “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” – Brene Brown. Fostering human connection in our lives might just help us survive.
Social media is a driver for my side gig, my blog, and a crutch for relationships that may thrive in a more vibrant way if I did not rely on apps on my phone for the upkeep of those relationships. That is a difficult reality to face, especially when I promote the value of human connection regularly. Rather than scrap-booking or printing photos, I rely on moments or “on this day” features. Rather than texting my friend to ask how her kiddo’s party was, I will just watch her timeline for photos and make a meaningful comment. I check my events tab rather than writing down birthdays in my calendar. Perhaps social media is the equivalent of cliff notes for human interaction, it brushes the surface and hits the high points but lacks the emotion, connection, and depth for which we are all yearning.
If you talk to me long enough, I might hop up on a soap box about screen time, social media, and how they rob our children of their capacity for human interactions and engaging in meaningful ways. Recently I have been digging into the concept of human connection and our need for tangible, face to face, and meaningful relationships and interactions. In conversations with clients, I have explored the reality of loneliness, the damage of the comparison trap, and how social media can drive home our irrational need for perfectionism. We can easily find ourselves trapped in a battle to save face and match our real lives with our profile. How much do we lose in this fight? I fear that we are losing our capacity for connection, but also ourselves.
In the online article “Why We Are Wired to Connect,” Matthew Lieberman discusses how crucial social connection is to our ability to thrive as healthy humans:
Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems. We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.
We are herd animals. The pattern of behavior associated with screen time and social media obsession leads to isolation and loneliness. If you take a few moments to read my post on Finding Your Tribe, you will learn the impact of meaningful human connection on our brains. Positive and meaningful, face-to-face engagement with loved ones promotes the release of oxytocin in our brains and promotes emotional regulation. Loneliness and isolation promotes cortisol and leads to our body’s suffering from the ill effects of long term stress. Medium.com has a great article on this topic, this excerpt from The Science of Human Connection and Wellness in a Digitally Connected World says:
Today, modern communication and technology has forever changed the landscape of our human interaction, and as such, we often decline without this type of meaningful personal contact. Today’s highly individualistic, digitally remote, and material driven culture is now challenging all of this, as we turn to science to unlock the mysteries of human connection and wellness in a digitally connected world.
Read that again. We decline when we neglect our need for human connection. Human connection and wellness are closely intertwined. We thrive in community. We rely on human connection. We are starved for physical contact. However, I think we are fooling ourselves into believing that the accessibility of engagement through social media can replace human connection. According to a study conducted in 2002, it was found that online interaction does not replace face to face human connection. In fact, online interaction increases loneliness.
Y’all…Myspace was still a thing in 2002. We have fallen deeper in our reliance on internet based interactions since 2002. While this day in age is progressive, I am not convinced that the current level of remote accessibility should be viewed as merely progress. I have no doubt that the climbing rate of depression and suicide is impacted by our reliance on social media and subsequent neglect of human connection.
As I mentioned from the start of this post…I rely on social media and the internet for my side business, for promoting my blog, and for networking in general. I believe that when utilized in a healthy manner, digital connection and having the world at our fingertips can be beneficial. Access to information and broadened audiences is great! However, as Aristotle says, “the man of virtue is the man of balance.” Virtue can be dangerous when exhibited in extremes. I believe this concept…the art of balance…needs to be applied to our use of social media and digital connection. The risk lies in the moments when our identity, self-esteem, and worthiness come from our online persona. If our children’s communication is reliant on a keyboard and their faculties are lost in the face of in-person conversation, there is a problem. We need to check in with ourselves (& our families) and practice the pursuit of balance and focus on fostering human connection in today’s widely isolated culture.
One of my favorite words is Ubuntu, a South African term that has no English equivalent. In essence, Ubuntu means we are all connected. We are all in this together. My freedom is wrapped up in your freedom. My happiness is wrapped up in your happiness. While we have more readily available information about the struggles that people face on a daily basis and are arguably more aware of pain, hunger, war, genocide, and other evils of this world than we were 20 years ago…we also have the firewall of distance to protect us from emotional involvement. We are removed and desensitized.
We can do better. We are capable of promoting increased humanity in our lives. The Facebook Experiment was a study conducted in Denmark that revealed that people who took a break from social media demonstrated improved well-being and increased positive emotions. This does not have to be permanent, but perhaps avoiding your phone or social media for the first and last hour of your day. Engage with your family. Plan a dinner date with your friend rather than browsing their page for updates. Hold eye contact with the people you talk to. Avoid filling moments of discomfort with mindless scrolling. Mindlessness, disconnection, isolation, comparison, and negative coping skills can all be fostered through unhealthy habits surrounding social media engagement and reliance on digital connection. Engage with living, breathing humans…it will benefit you and those around you!
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?
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.
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.