24/7 Mindfulness

The hardest place to be is right where you are. In the space between the finish and the start.

Half Alive

A few months ago, in an effort to recover from my disordered eating habits, I began practicing mindful eating. Mindful eating, for those who don’t know, is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Rather than watching TV or reading or even talking to your partner, you focus all of your attention solely on the act of eating. I did a pretty good job of doing this for a month or so, but since then I’ve fallen back into my old habits to some extent. I still practice eating my breakfast and lunch mindfully, free from distraction, but I’ve started to only eat half of my dinner in this way. Allowing myself to go back to watching Netflix or something afterward.

Although I am proud of myself for the progress I have been able to maintain, I can’t help but be a bit frustrated I haven’t been able to keep my mindful eating practice going entirely. When I ask myself why that is, the answer I always arrive at is that it’s just too tiring to be mindful for so much of my day. Despite that being how I genuinely feel, it still doesn’t make total sense to me. How is focusing on one thing more tiring than spreading out my attention and multitasking? Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Any time I try to imagine leading an entirely mindful, present life, this is the obstacle that I envision. It just seems like too much work. But why does it seem like that? Logically I don’t see how there could be that much of a difference between focused attention and scattered attention. Either way I am still awake and conscious and processing my surroundings the entire time. I wonder if there is a difference in the amount of energy we exert between the two or if this is just a false perception I employ to avoid myself.

I find myself giving the excuse, “I just need a break,” when I want to skip out on a mindful dinner. But how is eating and watching Netflix more of a break than just eating? Why does it seem like such an effort to just be still? I’m sure a lot of it has to do with unconscious conditioning, but it feels like there is more to it than that somehow. Where do I go when I am not being mindful? When I’m zoning out? Sometimes it feels as if my consciousness dissipates and I am just floating by on autopilot. And to a certain degree, I enjoy how that feels. It’s nice to not have to focus on anything. Even though I truly believe a more mindful life is inevitably a happier one as well. Why then do my mindless moments hold so much importance for me? Why does it seem like a nightmare to imagine being mindful 24/7?

It makes me wonder what the consciousness of a monk might feel like. Have they reached a state of perpetual mindfulness? Is that even possible? What might that be like? Considering this also brings to mind a quote from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception:

To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducingĀ valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.

The Doors of Perception; Aldous Huxley

If you’re not familiar with this book, in it Huxley is describing his thoughts and experiences while under the influence of psychedelic drugs, particularly Mescaline. From Huxley’s description, this drug allows the doors of our perception to be flung wide open. We are aware of everything all at once. All of the sensory information that the brain would normally filter out is being noticed. And while this is a profoundly beautiful and moving experience according to Huxley, it is also quite overwhelming. That is why he believes our normal conscious mind is filtered through was he has labeled the “reducing valve.”

I don’t know if this is truly relatable to regular, every day consciousness, but that is how mindfulness feels to me sometimes. It has the ability to make even the most mundane, monotonous moments beautiful and profound, yet it can become tiresome and overwhelming trying to remain in this highly focused state for too long.

Then again, perhaps mindfulness is more like a muscle. Maybe the more I practice, the less of an effort it will seem to be. Just like doing a 150lb. deadlift might seem impossible at first, if you keep slowly increasing your maximum weight, you’ll get there eventually. There is still so much that I don’t fully understand about mindfulness and the obstacles standing in the way of it for me. I am hopeful that with further practice and contemplation, I will be able to uncover some of the answers I’m looking for.

What is Mindfulness & What's its Role in the Workplace

White Male Privilege

As I sit in my office today wrapped in a blanket, scarf, and thick sweater with my heat blasting behind me, I can’t help but think about the small instances of male privilege that penetrate every day life for all of us. My office is super small. There are never more than five employees here at a time, and the majority is always female. Most days it’s just me, our female therapist, and our male interviewer. Despite the fact that the women are all freezing each and every day, the single male employee has no hesitation about controlling the temperature in the building.

We’ve given up on turning the air conditioner off for the most part because he just turns it right back on as soon as we walk away. Even this week, at the fucking end of October, the air conditioner was blasting in our meeting room. He sees us shivering and desperately trying to wrap our entire bodies in blankets, and he just laughs at us lightheartedly. Now, don’t get me wrong, this man is not someone I would consider a sexist. He’s a lovely person and has a lot of respect and admiration for women. He’s even said he believes women are better than men. But this only emphasizes the seriousness of my point. Sexism is so pervasive and ingrained in our society, that it isn’t even noticed. I’m sure he hasn’t even considered for a second how outrageous and unfair it is that he should be the only one who is comfortable at the office. It only seems right and natural that men get their way, regardless of how many woman are inconvenienced.

It also saddens me to realize that because the majority of our employees are women, we could strongarm him into submission if we wanted to. But women are used to this kind of bullshit. It simply isn’t worth the conflict. We’ve learned to just accept that this world, and even our own workplaces, aren’t made for us. We prefer to suffer in silence rather than face the alternative of being called aggressive bitches for standing up for ourselves. (Not that my coworker would say that. Although I’m sure he’d be irritated.)

It really kills me inside that there are so many women that don’t consider themselves feminists or even who think feminism is outdated and unnecessary. They aren’t even able to see their own oppression and second class citizen status in their day to day lives. They have internalized this sexism so much that it just seems normal, right even. It seems like we are hearing more and more in the news about the oppression of minorities, bigotry, and racism. Of course I think this is an excellent thing that is much needed, but once again women’s rights are put on the back burner.

I’ll never forget how shocked and infuriated I was to learn in school that black men were given the right to vote before women. This will always remain in my memory as the perfect example of the unacknowledged plight of women. Obviously I think black men should be able to vote, but women were not deemed eligible for that same right until four amendments and 50 years later. My stomach turns just thinking about it. Black men went from being looked at as animals, beasts of burden, farming tools to more worthy and respected than women. It makes me wonder why no one else seems to notice this inequity between the fight against minority oppression and the oppression of women.

One theory I have is that the two types of oppression look different. In a lot of ways women seem to have it pretty good compared to other minorities. We are seen as valuable by our oppressors. However, we are valuable as slaves were to their masters. We are valuable as objects, trophies, and commodities, not as human beings. We are baby incubators, house maids, etc. Although we are still beaten, raped, and killed that is somehow mitigated in the eyes of society because the perpetrator often “loves” his victim. We cannot be ostracized, and unlike other minorities we don’t have to face the constant fear of complete genocide either. Men simply humor our existence out of necessity. However, as far as all the other forms of discrimination and oppression go, we are right up there with everyone else. In some ways this makes the disdain and hatred of women even worse because men resent the fact that we are needed. They hate us, in part, for being capable of something which they are not, creating life.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons far more women are vegan/vegetarian than men. Women are able to more easily empathize with other animals, because we see ourselves in them, we are not very different at all, in fact. We are tolerated purely for male consumption. We are just flesh, only useful to the extent that we can offer sensory pleasure to men. We are forced to learn how to survive, even utilize, the existing structures of a system built in opposition to us. And just like animals, the continued oppression and abuse of women has fallen behind concern and awareness for the treatment of male members of minority groups.

I don’t know how this issue will ever be adequately addressed, especially when so many women are all too ready to submit to their oppressors and take for granted the rights our sisters have fought for. I suppose I just had to write about this today out of sheer frustration. I might as well use my voice to speak up on this issue while I can, and while I am able to use my youth and beauty to garner a bit more attention from my male overlords. I am all too aware that as I age, my value will continue to diminish in the eyes of the world. And that is a sobering thought.

Women's Rights | ACLU of Louisiana

Acknowledging Our Privilege

Entitlement and privilege have become popular terms in the last few years. It’s not surprising to me that the disenfranchised among us have finally begun to have their voices heard in this regard. What’s more surprising is the backlash that it has resulted in. Straight, white, men are furious to be called privileged. But why? Would it make you mad if someone called you fortunate? Rich? Well-educated? Privilege is something to be grateful for. It’s not an insult, just an observation. Something that only needs to be recognized and acknowledged, so that we can work together to even the playing field. I don’t know why it is so difficult for so many people to admit that there are many who are worse off.

I think that people are misinterpreting the meaning of the word privilege. Just because you’re at the top of the social hierarchy doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems or difficulties in your life. It doesn’t mean every moment of your existence has been easy. It just means that despite the problems you have, there are a lot of people who have a different set of problems that are based on their gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Problems that they cannot resolve or avoid. All these people are asking for right now is for the world to see their struggles. Is that really too much to ask?

Apparently it is. One of the ironic things about discussions like these is the privileged side’s refusal to even for a moment put their own thoughts and feelings aside in order to pay attention to the needs and concerns of others. Refusing to see others’ perspectives is it’s own form of privilege.

Even though I am a woman, I am still well-educated, middle class, and white. I fully own that despite my gender, I am extremely privileged and catch myself acting entitled all the time. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always had self-deprecation in my blood, but it’s never been an issue for me to acknowledge that. I have no problem admitting that I haven’t “earned” most of the comforts I enjoy every day. I’m not any better than someone who lives on government assistance, works at a minimum wage job, is unemployed, addicted to drugs, or even a criminal. Luck and random chance are the only things that separate us. It doesn’t harm me or my ego to say that. In fact, I believe it benefits me to consider my life from the perspective of those less fortunate. People that go through life with a sense of superiority and entitlement are not generally the happiest people. When you move through the world as if you are owed certain things, you are asking to be aggravated and disappointed.

I was considering my own unconscious sense of entitlement as I drove to work this morning. I have a tendency to get pretty irritated while driving. Why can’t these people drive?! Why are they all in my way!? It seems like every other car on the highway is merely there to inconvenience me. When I stop and reflect of that self-righteous anger though, I want to laugh. This world is not only for me. Why do I choose to focus on the things that bother me instead of focusing on what a sheer miracle it is that I have a highway to drive on at all? I allow myself to get so fed up with society to the point that I often hate humanity all together. Yet I forget to acknowledge how awful my life would be without the foundation our ancestors have established. I should be honored to call myself a human being, not angry and ashamed. Sure humans aren’t perfect, but we’ve done some incredible things and I’m happy that I get to benefit from the hard work of all those before me.

I wish that those who feel insulted by being called privileged or entitled would instead feel grateful that they have it so good. The problems of the world are not solely on your shoulders just because you were born white, just as the terrible conditions faced by minorities are not their fault for not being white. The conversation has somehow become about blame, when it should be about finding solutions. I think another misconception is about what these solutions will look like. No one wants to strip the privileged of their health and happiness. We merely want to raise the rest of the world up to where they are, and stop blaming those in need and writing them off as deserving of the lot they’ve gotten in life.

Juggling Gratitude and Fear

Lately I keep coming back to the realization that a lot of the luxuries I take for granted every day will soon be unavailable to me. Fresh produce from the store, peaceful morning drives to work, running water, hot showers, internet access, electricity, coffee, a healthy, pain-free body. Most of us have lots of precious moments like these every day that we don’t pay much attention to. Even if you don’t believe that the world is headed for catastrophe like me, it is still a shame that we don’t take the time to be grateful for the small moments of joy in our lives.

My issue is not so much that I don’t realize I need to be grateful for these things, it’s rather that it’s hard for me to avoid the fear that comes along with realizing that they are in fact luxuries I may not always have. My heart swells with panic instead of gratitude when I acknowledge that in a few short years I may be going to sleep hungry. I may be fighting just to stay alive, to keep my loved ones alive and safe. My mind tends to fixate on the negative, preventing me from enjoying where I am and what I have right now.

I don’t quite know how to reconcile the two sides of this coin. How can I remind myself that I am so privileged without dwelling on the fearful vision I have of the future without these comforts? As soon as I try to feel gratitude for the little things, I feel terror and dread instead. But I don’t want to continue sleepwalking through these “mundane” moments either. It is a constant struggle to try to balance the simple pleasures of my day to day life now with the nightmarish future to come. I’m afraid that my efforts to be more mindful are only resulting in me practicing fear and anxiety instead.

I am genuinely at a loss as how to address this issue. I’m not sure if trying to hold this in my awareness is actually worse for my mental health than continuing to take my many blessings for granted. It’s hard to feel grateful that you are not in physical or emotional pain without also contemplating the day that pain will come. If anyone else has experienced this dilemma, I would love to know your thoughts. Is there anything you have found helpful in handling these contradictory emotions? I would greatly appreciate any advice offered.

Welcome To The Post-Apocalypse: A Open Letter From The Martyrs of The New  World | Geek and Sundry

I Always Forget

From the abstraction of atoms
I emerge again
Electrical impulses, energy
Firing between neurons 
A new expression of me
contained within a temporary form

I look down at these hands
clenched fists, white knuckles
I cling desperately to this body
that I have become
this life that surrounds me
and I have already forgotten

I always forget
That this being is not me
I am not these thoughts
I am not these hands
I am not this body
or this mind

I am the energy
that animates it
I cannot be created
or destroyed
only transformed
again and again and again

Facing this cycle for infinity
I still never fail to forget
never fail to fear
I will remember again
when these eyes close 
once more

I will awake from this dream
to become new again
to be recycled and reborn
to melt away and reappear
to lose myself in a new dream 
all over again
The Seer | Alex Grey

Finding the Feeling

For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.

In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.

We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.

It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.

Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.

So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.

This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
  3. Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
  4. Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
  5. Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
  6. Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
  7. When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.

If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.

If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?

Gratitude Journal for a positive mindset - The Happi Empire

Meditation for Kids

I’ve seen a few articles that discuss the benefits of replacing things like time out or detention with meditation whether in school or at home. Even since hearing about this idea, I’ve been a huge fan. It seems like a lot of the time parents and teachers can become so frustrated in the moment that they resort reflexively to age old punishments. Most people have used and/or been subjected to spanking or time outs. But how many of us have actually checked into the data behind whether or not these things are actually effective? Not only that, a lot of the time it seems like the intention behind these punishments seems to get lost somewhere along the way.

I would hope that most parents and teachers enact punishments in an attempt to correct and change negative, disruptive, or dangerous behaviors. While I’m not sure if the data supports the time out strategy in this regard, I know for a fact that spanking has been proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to the child. Among other things, it leads to even more negative behaviors rather than preventing them. Unfortunately I’ve seen many parents dig their heels in on corporal punishment even after being confronted with this information.

Another thing that I’ve noticed while watching the way parents and other adults interact with children is that not many people seem to place any value in finding the time to actually explain things to kids. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure it could be many things from demanding unquestioning submission to their authority, to impatience, to modeling their parents’ behavior, to thinking the child wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

One of the things I’ll never stop giving my mom credit for is always being willing to explain things to me. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized just how incredible the amount of patience that woman has. She never seemed to get frustrated by my endless questions, even about the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to do something or had to do something else. She was even patient with me when after discovering the reason, I continued to debate with her and push the issue. This level of openness and respect allowed me to become the intelligent, thoughtful person I am today. It taught me to value knowledge and the importance of good communication and mutual understanding. Not only that, I feel it helped my mom as well. I think people underestimate kids. They seem to forget that they are just little humans with wills, wants, and desires of their own. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow a rule if you understood why it was a rule in the first place? Isn’t it frustrating to be forced to do something just because you are told to?

With all of this in mind, I want to come back to the idea of meditation as a punishment replacement. When you think about it, a time out is already somewhat of the same thing. However, meditation gives this period of quite and stillness an important, clear intention. To me it seems like swapping out meditation for time out has almost unlimited potential for parents, families, teachers, and children alike. I can only image what a different world we would all live in if we started raising our kids this way. Think how much more receptive a child would be to this form of “punishment.”

When a kid is acting out, especially a little one, it doesn’t really make sense to expect a reprimand such as time out, taking something away, or especially striking them to make them calm down. So in the end you need to step back and remind yourself what the goal of these things is supposed to be. If it is simply to get revenge on the child for what they’ve done, then by all means, go ahead. You’re sure to upset them at the very least. But if the goal is to help the child find new, more appropriate behaviors and understand why their current behavior is unacceptable, then it seems like a pretty lousy strategy.

I think it would be a much more helpful and pleasant experience for everyone involved if in response to a negative behavior, someone would explain to the child: 1. Why this is unacceptable behavior. (How it negatively effects, not only others, but the child themselves.) 2. Why meditation is the response to this behavior. (How it can help the child not only behave, but feel better.) No one wants to feel like they are being punished for what they’ve done, even if they know it was wrong. However, we are all hardwired to act with our own self-interest in mind. Wouldn’t you be more likely to participate in something (even if you didn’t necessarily like it) if you thought it would ultimately benefit you?

I only wish someone had been around to teach me meditation as a child. For the most part when a child acts out, it is because they are upset or dealing with emotions they aren’t able to handle appropriately. And it really isn’t their fault, they’ve yet to develop the skills and areas of their brains necessary to properly regulate and process different emotions. Even so, kids know that it doesn’t feel good to be upset or to let your emotions overwhelm you. The majority of my life was spent thinking that these things were just out of my control. What a relief it was to me to discover that I actually have the power to regulate my own emotions and to strengthen this skill like a muscle. I’m sure I’d be much better at doing so if I’d started when I was younger too.

I believe children would really respond well to being taught these new, useful tools. It could simply be explained to them that the purpose behind these “time-outs” is for their benefit. It isn’t just to be mean or make them unhappy because they acted in a way we didn’t like. It is just a time for them to practice using these new tools so that they can have a happier, more peaceful life now and in the future. From what I’ve seen, kids are usually eager to please. Many may be quick to comply if they were told all of these things. It all comes down to treating kids with the patience and respect they deserve and remembering what we want the purpose of punishment to be.

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

The Focused Mind

It is interesting to me that when I sit down to write, the ideas that usually come to mind are so negative. I think about problems I see in my own life or in the world around me. I can think of some pretty interesting topics, but that isn’t the issue. I didn’t start writing everyday to be interesting. I am doing this because I like to write and it makes me happy. Depending on what I’m writing about. It always comes down to focus.

I genuinely fear for these younger generations. Even my own has suffered and continues to suffer from the influence of technology. The internet and social media have drastically damaged our mental abilities. The saddest thing is that there isn’t really anyone to blame or a clear solution other than purging our lives of these technologies entirely. We have reached the point in history where “robots are taking over.” It just doesn’t look like what we thought it would look like. It is much subtler. Robot humans aren’t so much moving into our neighborhoods and taking out jobs, as they are tinkering behind the scenes shaping our own personalized virtual worlds for us. There is no evil intention behind this threat to humanity. The algorithms we’ve created are only doing their best, trying to help us as they’ve been designed to do. We just couldn’t have imagined the implications of this progress.

Among the myriad reasons that this new reality we’ve unleashed upon the world is harmful, the most significant to me is its effect on attention span. This has definitely made an impact on all of us who use the internet and specifically social media, but it is particularly easy to see in children. It really breaks my heart to imagine what childhood must look like now-a-days compared to what I was lucky enough to have. Just the other day a coworker and I were reminiscing in front of a 10 or 11 year old girl about before we had internet or even a computer. She seemed stunned and horrified as she listened. I felt like my grandmother when she would tell me about before they had cars and electricity.

It is interesting to me that alongside this rise in social media, there has also been an increase in interest in spiritual practices such as yoga. It is almost as if we are naturally seeking out a balance to the damaging effects we’ve been exposed to. Something inside of us is looking for help. While it can’t solve the problems we face, I do feel that yoga and meditation are instrumental in combating the negative effects of technology in my own life. No matter how long I practice yoga, it continues to blossom and evolve. As I peel back layer after layer, I find new pearls of truth, new perspectives. I’ll think I know what yoga is all about, then have that idea utterly overthrown by a new one.

Once I thought yoga was just about exercise and flexibility. I thought meditation was an effort to keep the mind still. Now I’ve learned that both of these practices are complementary to one another and that ultimately they are both about focus. It doesn’t matter if you can do the splits and hold a handstand if your mind is somewhere else the whole time. You can sit in meditation for hours, but if your mind is running laps it won’t do you much good. The point of both of these practices is to train and harness our ability to focus.

We often hear that we are in control of our own happiness. We can choose the way we want to feel and respond to the world around us. And while this is true, it doesn’t exactly explain how we are able to do this. The answer to that is (yep, you guessed it) focus. Concentration, attention, focus, whatever you want to call it, it is a muscle that we must exercise and train to serve us. Sadly, the internet and social media are actively working against this training, teaching our minds to do just the opposite of focus.

That is why having a regular yoga and meditation practice is more important than ever before. Yoga and meditation are sneaky. They give us things to focus on, and we assign different meaning to why we are focusing on them. We want to be healthy, we want to be flexible, we want to have more peace and calm in our lives. It is only later that many of us realize what we are focusing on has little to do with it. The mere act of mindful awareness and concentration are what produce the positive mental health effects. That’s why eventually we can learn to take our practice with us off the mat. We don’t have to be in impressive postures to be practicing yoga. Don’t forget tadasana (mountain pose) is just as valuable as bakasana (crow pose). Pranayama isn’t necessarily beneficial simply because of the techniques we are using for the breath, but because of the intense focus we put on the breath.

As you go about the rest of your day, try to notice how you feel when the mind is focused, when it’s scattered. It seems silly or even simply, but when you notice yourself becoming agitated or anxious, find something to focus on. It’s harder than it sounds. Watch your mind as it squirms and tries to escape this stillness, the mindful attention. What you decide to focus your attention on doesn’t really matter. The breath is always a good choice because it is always there with us. But you could also focus on a blade of grass, the veins in your hands, the backs of your eyelids, the way your clothes feel against your skin. As long as you’re concentrating, it will help. This is why the flow state is so intoxicating. It isn’t even necessarily because we are often engaged in an activity we love doing, it is because we are intensely focused. So I hope that you are able to practice focus as you move through your day today. Just take it one step at a time. Allow yourself be enjoy each moment as it comes, giving it your full attention.

Photo by Sam Lion on Pexels.com

Coming Back Home

This life is so beautiful. It’s amazing how easily I am able to forget that. I always get caught up in the little things. For me it’s always been easier to worry endlessly than to pause and enjoy the present moment. But of all the suffering I’ve experienced in my life, I’ve been the source of the vast majority of it. It is hard to accept that and not condemn myself for it. It’s actually a great gift to realize that strange fact. Because it means that I can also be the end of all of this suffering. I just have to keep reminding myself, especially when it’s hard.

I just have to remember that this life is so much bigger than all of my petty little problems. What an insane, incredible, amazing thing it is that I exist at all! That there is so much right in front of me to enjoy, to be grateful for. This miraculous body that I inhabit, this home that shelters me, safe and warm with my loved ones, the ability to breathe the air, to feel soft pleasant textures against my skin. I am happy. I am free. I am alive. Right here, right now. Life is good.

Under all of my anxiety lies the fear that one day I won’t be able to take it anymore. I’m afraid that all of these tiny worries will pile up around me until I can no longer bear it, that I will somehow be consumed. But I don’t give myself enough credit. I am far more powerful than I realize most days. Sometimes I am tempted to allow my worst fears to become reality, just so that I can show myself that I will still be okay. When the darkest moments come, it is the smallest things that save me. Everything that I truly need is within me, it is me.

This breath, this deep, intangible, limitless love that I hold inside, nothing can take that away from me. It is forever mine. These things are always here for me. There is an immense power that emanates from my soul. A power that I can connect with whenever I need to. A power that I don’t use often enough. But nevertheless it doesn’t leave me, even when it remains dormant.

On days like today, when I stop and really contemplate existence, I want to laugh hysterically at the beautiful absurdity of it all. I want to cry from sheer, inexpressible joy. I want to shout thank you, thank you to whatever it is that has allowed this all to be possible. I want to take my anxious mind into my arms and coo to it softly, “don’t be so silly, there is no need to be afraid, I love you, I am here for you, everything is alright, it has always been alright, it will always be alright, trust me, dear one, shush now, I’ve got you.”

What more could I possibly want? What else could I even have asked for? This life, this world, it is all so beautiful. It is absolutely perfect. Even the messy parts, even the scary parts, they are all gorgeous and necessary to create the fullness that is this existence. I am so lucky. I am so grateful that I get to be a part of this. My heart feels so full. It is overflowing. I want to fill every empty space with warmth and love and light. I want to give and give until there is nothing left of me but pure glistening bliss.

When I begin to feel like I am fraying at the edges, like I won’t be able to hold myself together, I want to read this and remember that I never have to fear coming apart, because I am already a part of all that there is. I am forever whole and complete and at one with everything. I don’t need to cut out the bits of me that feel afraid or anxious or upset, those parts of me are fine just the way they are. There is nothing wrong with them. There is nothing to fix. When they start to feel too heavy, all I need to do is put them down for a while. All I need to do is image whatever it is I’d like to be feeling instead. “Not anxious” isn’t something that my heart can understand clearly enough to provide for me. Rather I should ask it for joy or love or comfort or peace. These are things that the heart remembers well. I am always capable of returning to these emotions. Because they are my natural state.

It is no wonder that I get tired, that I feel exhausted with living sometimes. It takes a lot of energy to keep myself so far away from my very essence, to deny myself so often. It’s as if I am using all my strength to hold a door closed inside of me. Behind that door lies this unending love and happiness that is my true nature. That beautiful, bubbling light that we are made of. An energy that is beyond logic, beyond reason, beyond definition, beyond even consciousness. I don’t need to understand it. I don’t need to search for it. I am it. It is me. I am the answer. I am the joy and the love and the safety that I seek. And it’s okay if in an hour I’ve forgotten once again. Because this is where I will always inevitably return. I can come back again and again, as many times as I need to. This light within me will always be here waiting.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Monotony of Life

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Some days I start to feel really overwhelmed by the way it seems like I am living nearly the same day over and over again. I wake up, I let my dog out, I feed my cat, I make coffee, I pick up clumps of white cat fur from every room, I collect up several lady bugs from the windowsills, etc. I start to feel weighed down by these mundane maintenance activities. The idea of doing something you’ll just have to do again tomorrow or at the end of the day or even an hour from now has always frustrated me.

Maybe it’s just that same idea of feeling forced to do something over and over that I don’t want to do. It’s hard to accept in the moment, but in reality I do want to do those things. Maybe not directly, but I want the results. I want my pets to be comfortable and happy. I want my house to look clean and orderly. I definitely want to drink that morning coffee. Focusing on the giving myself the result rather than being burdened by the process might be helpful. Instead of thinking: Ugh, here I am filling this dog bowl for the hundredth time, I can think about the love I have for my sweet dog daughter and how grateful I am to have her in my life to care for. But even that takes mindful awareness and lots of practice.

I’ve been experiencing mild physical pain the last few days. Although it’s quite aggravating, it has also been helping me understand something bigger. I’m very fortunate in the sense that I don’t experience pain or illness very frequently. However, in the times I do, especially thinking back to being sick more often as a child, it almost feels like my whole body is in a panicked revolt against the area that is experiencing distress. I so desperately want to isolate and separate from that area of my body, to numb it, to detach it. I’ve even heard other people express this idea by wishing they could just remove their head when they have a migraine or head cold. It seems counterintuitive to actually embrace that troubled part of our bodies instead. Yet that is exactly what we need to do.

It only increases our suffering to try to avoid pain, physical or otherwise. Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I remembered this tidbit of yogic wisdom. I allowed my awareness to caress that painful place. I sent my breath there. I sent loving kindness there. It must have worked well because the next thing I knew I was waking up to a bright new morning. I think this principle can also work in the other difficult parts of life.

Instead of resisting my monotonous morning routine, I’ll practice embracing it. Sure, maybe I’ve done these things a million times before and will probably do them another million in the future, but what does it feel like to do them today? And I don’t have to lie to myself and pretend it’s fun. Maybe it does feel frustrating. What does frustration feel like? Can I allow myself to experience that?What does my body feel like? Can I move mindfully? Can I find something new even in these repetitive tasks, just like I do in my yoga practice? Does my body feel stiff and achy from hours of sleep? Am I feeling sleepy or awake? What does it feel like to be experiencing these things? Can I practice gratitude and mindfulness even in the dullest moments? Can I remember to breathe deeply in discomfort? Can I experiment and find new ways to be kind to myself with my thoughts and movements?

All of these things are obviously easier said than done. Usually when we are feeling tired and irritated, the last thing we want to do is pause and be mindful or grateful. But I think just taking a few moments now and then to set these intentions for my everyday life helps me to remember to at least try. Even though I may not “succeed” I’ll know that today I can at least give myself some credit for trying. And those small moments of practice add up.