Mind-full

Mindfulness is trusting
that this moment is enough
showing our appreciation
for the gift of now

Setting aside our doubts
to delve deeper into the present
seeing past the surface simplicity
to be enveloped in sheer awe

Each minute becomes magnified
under the gaze of the focused mind
purpose found in pondering
a cloud's reflection in a puddle

It's surprising what can fill your cup
when you pay attention to the pouring
of each moment into the next
perfect stillness in motion
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Kind Words

I’ve struggled with my body image and my weight since I was a child. I can remember being so small and looking at my pudgy little belly wondering if it was really “baby fat” like my mom and sister had told me and would go away as I got older. I remember being in elementary/middle school drinking SlimFast shakes as meal replacements. Looking back I honestly can’t believe my mother allowed me to do that. I suppose as a child, drinking those shakes would end up being more calories than you needed anyway.

It was hard for me growing up with friends who never had to worry about their weight or what they were eating. All of my friends were, in my eyes, perfect, pretty, and skinny. I still remember a phone conversation I had with my best friend in 6th grade about this. She may not have been able to relate to my suffering, but the things she said to me that day nearly brought me to tears and have stayed with me ever since. She told me that one day I was going to wake up and look at myself in the mirror and love myself. She told me to look forward to that day and plan on being very kind to myself, to take a bubble bath, wear my favorite outfit, do my makeup, and just enjoy being me.

Sadly, I’m still waiting for that day to come. But I’ve never forgotten the gravity of those kind words my friend spoke to me all of those years ago. I still get tearful when I think about them. This was probably the first time in my life that I had even considered being kind to myself or that it was possible for me to love myself, even in the future. It didn’t seem likely or even possible at the time, but just the idea changed me. It opened up a new perspective in my mind.

We don’t always realize the effect our words can have on someone else. We may have forgotten all about a conversation that the other person is still thinking about years later. I no longer speak to this childhood friend of mine, but I think of her fondly, especially when that conversation we shared enters my awareness, which it does quite frequently. I have no doubt that she has no recollection of it or any idea how much what she said still means to me.

This anecdote serves as a reminder to never underestimate the power of our words, whether they be kind or cruel. Something said carelessly out of anger may permanently damage someone. A smile or a kind word to a friend may be enough to get them through another day, another year. Sometimes it can feel impossible for us to make a meaningful difference in the world. We forget what immense power we hold in the words that we choose to speak. Don’t hesitate to tell those around you how much they mean to you or express your heartfelt gratitude or appreciation. You never know what impact you may have. If a similar situation came to mind while reading this post, perhaps it would be nice to let the other person know how much what they said meant to you. If you have said something hurtful to someone in the past, maybe it’s time to apologize. Even if it was years ago, you never know if it is still affecting them, or how much peace it may bring them to receive an apology. It’s truly incredible what little energy and effort it takes to be kind and what huge ripple effects may follow as a result.

Speak mindfully. Speak kindly. It matters more than you know.

How Parents Can Help Kids Cultivate Kindness : NPR

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

Small Acts of Unkindness

Take a moment to think about all the little ways in which you withhold tenderness and compassion from yourself on a daily basis. It may take you a while to even register what those actions might be. We have become so used to disregarding our needs, that we lose sight of how cruel we are actually being to ourselves sometimes. When you stop to reflect, you can begin to see how you might be reinforcing thoughts of unworthiness and self-hatred without even realizing it.

For example, I caught myself being unkind the other night as I prepared my dinner. I was heating up leftovers like I often do after work. As I took the hot plate our of the microwave, I noticed that instead of getting pot holders or making sure I didn’t burn myself, I just rushed to set the plate back down in the other room before the pain became too great. Now this is something I do all the time. I guess I can’t be bothered to add on the extra step of finding something else to grab the plate with besides my bare hands. I don’t know what was different about that day, but as I hurried to set the hot plate down, I realized how unkind I was being to myself in that small, unconscious gesture.

Would I allow a family member, friend, or other loved one to risk burning themselves in that way? Of course not. I would insist that they protect themselves and avoid any unnecessary pain or discomfort. Yet I never felt the need to offer myself that same grace or consideration. How sad, I thought. How unkind I have been. Am I not to be included in the category of “loved one”? Why not? Do I not claim to love myself? Why was I not behaving as if that were true? How had I so easily been overlooking these opportunities to be gentle with myself?

After realizing the subtle cruelty of that common occurrence, I started to wonder in what other ways I had been neglecting myself. I began to notice small acts of unkindness everywhere I looked. There are many times when I’ll force myself to wear an article of clothing that is uncomfortable just because it looks good. I’m also guilty of things like: forcing myself to workout even when I’m feeling sick, biting my nails until my fingers are hurting or even bleeding, aggressively picking at my skin, mentally berating the reflection I see in the mirror, shaming myself for feeling confident, being silly, or even just dancing, etc.

The more I think about it, the more ways I notice I’m being unkind to myself on a daily basis. I’m saddened not only for all these things I’m realizing, but also for how long it took me to realize them. Looking back, I’ve done these things for as long as I can remember. As a teenager I remember not wearing sunglasses or sunblock, white knuckling through injuries in order to keep up with my 8 mile daily run, even performing intentional self-harm. The craziest part is knowing that I would never put up with someone else treating me this way, nor would I stand idly by and allow my loved ones to treat themselves with the same disrespect.

I’m slowly working towards becoming more mindful of these small, hurtful gestures. It helps to imagine how I would feel if someone else was in a similar situation. Then I offer myself the same consideration and kindness that I would offer them. I think without even being aware, a lot of us are the most abusive person in our own lives. What a difference it would make if we could bring a soft, loving intention to the little things we do each day.

The next time you notice yourself experiencing discomfort, anxiety, sadness, shame, etc. Ask yourself, am I contributing to the state I’m in right now? If so, how might I offer myself comfort instead? Instead of thinking “what a pain” when I have to take the time to protect my skin from a hot surface, I will think “here you go, dear, I love you, and I want to protect you.” Just because it’s us doing it to ourselves, that is still no excuse to cause suffering or be neglectful. The way we treat ourselves is just as important, if not more important, than the treatment we receive from other people. What are some of the ways you might offer yourself more love and compassion where you’ve been withholding it? How might that make a difference in the way you feel as you move through your day? Make an effort to be kinder toward yourself in small ways as well as in larger ways. Because you are worth it. And even if you have a hard time believing that, think of it as practice. Practice self-love and self-compassion so that you might more easily be able to extend that same energy to others in your life. Or even better, do it for the people in your life that love you. Treat yourself the way they would want you to be treated.

Blogger Health: Blogger Self Care | Food Bloggers of Canada | Food Bloggers  of Canada

Happiness, Pleasure, & Self Denial

Pleasure and happiness are not the same. We’ve been taught this nearly our entire lives. This lesson is often handed down with a derogatory attitude toward pleasure in general. Pleasure is a distraction, a trap. True happiness is found only when we master our desire for momentary pleasure in favor of loftier personal pursuits. I still remember learning in my high school psychology class that people with an ability to postpone pleasure, or delay gratification, end up reporting higher levels of happiness. This was a significant moment in my education that still stands out to me. I’ve held fast to that information ever since, hoping that if I could emulate those self-sacrificing people, I too would one day be happier.

It should be said that even though I continued on to get a bachelors in psychology, it didn’t really dawn on me until recently that I should question those early lessons. Psychology, like medicine, is constantly evolving. The things I learned ten years ago can no longer be trusted as confidently. For instance, I also learned in that class that happiness is to a certain extent predetermined by our genes. I’m not even sure if it was ever put in such simple and direct terms. I just recall learning about a study where they recorded people’s levels of happiness before, right after, and then again a year after either a positive or negative life event. It seemed that regardless of whether you won the lottery or lived through the holocaust, a year later your happiness level would basically return to the level it was before the event.

At the time I took this to mean that it was hopeless to try to change your happiness. We were doomed (or blessed) to always revert back to our predestined, baseline levels of happiness. However, now I realize that psychological studies are not so simple. While this study produced interesting results, there is no reason to jump to such harsh conclusions. Our happiness may return to baseline after an extraordinary event, but that doesn’t determine whether or not we can change our happiness baseline.

Despite my original despair about genetic happiness deficits, I still hoped that through hard work and focus, someday I could build a solid foundation of happiness for myself. After all isn’t that the American dream we’ve been sold in this country since infancy? Work hard and you can achieve anything. The unspoken part of that equation somewhat bolstered by the first study I mentioned about delayed gratification, is that the “hard work” portion is not enjoyable. We must struggle and suffer first. We must claw our way to the top. Then and only then can we enjoy the spoils of victory. The road will be rough and arduous, but at the end our “happily ever after” awaits us. Even most major religions teach us to deny ourselves the pleasures of the moment, to deny earthly pleasures. Someday we will be rewarded with true paradise for our martyrdom and devotion.

I’m not trying to say there is no value in this lesson. It is certainly important to be able to resist certain temptations in order to keep ourselves safe and healthy. Seeking short-term pleasure should by no means become our sole focus in life. At the same time, I think our society has perhaps taken this lesson to the opposite extreme. Pleasure has been muddied with ideas of weakness, recklessness, and debauchery. We’ve become so good at delaying gratification that we no longer know how to enjoy the moment.

When was the last time you just allowed your mind to rest of the simple pleasure of the sun warming your bare skin? When was the last time you truly tasted and relished a hot meal? There are so many small moments such as these that we pay no mind. There is an abundance of pleasure to be experienced each and every day. Yet we overlook these innocent pleasures in favor of the thinking mind’s agenda. I don’t have time to focus on this delightful hot shower, the soft steam filling the room, the pinpricks of hot water enveloping me, the sweet smell of flowery soaps, the snug embrace of a towel against clean skin. I’ve got to spend these moments thinking, planning, mentally preparing for the hours, days, even months ahead of me.

These constant mental preparations and ruminations have become so essential to us that we lose the ability to distinguish which are actually helpful and which are merely senseless chatter. We start to feel that this nonstop mental activity is a shield against the uncertainty and unpredictability of life. What would happen to us if we didn’t have this internal dialogue nagging us day and night about our car payment or keeping the house clean or that disagreement we had with a friend last week?

I want to remind you (and myself) that it’s safe to take a break from these intrusive and obsessive thoughts. They are not protecting us from life. They are just keeping us from experiencing it at all. The good news is that most of our suffering is tied to this nonstop cacophony of thoughts. When we step away from them and return to the moment right in front of us, we often realize that we already have everything we need to be happy. I can’t promise that allowing yourself to be present will bring you success, riches, or greater happiness in the future, but I can promise that it will allow you to live the life in front of you with all the pleasures and surprises that come with it.

Here is your invitation to drop your worries, expectations, hopes, and fears for just one day. Give yourself permission to simply experience all that your life has to offer you today. Take notice of the little things that bring you pleasure. Be present in your body and be curious about what pleasure feels like. It’s surprising how much the small stuff can mean to us if we let it.

6 Things You Should Never Do In The Shower | Prevention

Bittersweet Transitions

Today is the last day I will have the pleasure to work with someone I’ve come to consider a dear friend. She is a therapist and leaving to go into private practice. From the moment I began this job, I was excited and inspired by the fact that someone only a few years older than me was already such an impressive figure in the mental health field. She is one of the best therapists (and probably people in general) that I’ve ever known. It is a delight to watch her work with the kids we meet and to learn from her interactions with them and their parents. I am definitely a much better person for having known her.

She lives quite nearby to another friend of mine, on the same street actually. Yet we’ve never really spent time together outside of work. I am desperately hoping that we manage to stay friends after we no longer work together. I’ve had that hope many times in the past. However, it has always been an unsuccessful aspiration. So while I still intend to try to stay close, I am not getting my hopes up. Rather I am just going to focus on enjoying this final day at work with her. I would like to snag a card while I’m out later to write all of these warm sentiments down for her. It’s always embarrassing and uncomfortable for me to be vulnerable and express how much someone means to me, but it’s definitely well worth the discomfort.

As I reflect on the time we’ve had together and how sad I was the day she told us she would be leaving, another thought occurred to me. That was the same day that Nate told me he had gotten the job six hours away from me. Up until that point, I had been having an exceptionally good day. Then I ended up crying all the way home. I felt like I was losing everything, my work family and my new boyfriend.

Reflecting on that day now makes my heart feel so full. I can’t believe how far Nate and I have come from that day I thought would mark the end for us. I am so grateful to have so many amazing people in my life. I am so grateful that Nate cared for me enough even that early on to commit to a long distance relationship with me. I am so grateful that our love has grown and flourished even despite the hundreds of miles between us.

Even though today is a bittersweet one, overall I am still happy. It is useless to despair over the fluctuations and changes that come in life. We can never predict what moments we will look back on and cherish, what small events may end up being pivotal moments in our lives. Today I am going to focus on being grateful for all I have, knowing that it was never owed to me, knowing that it may disappear at any time, and being all the more joyful because of that impermanency. Transitions can be painful, but they are also beautiful. They are opportunities to reflect and take stock of all that we have to be thankful for. And I have so, so much.

conflict-related stress: A hug a day will keep negative emotions and stress  away - The Economic Times

Mindful Eating

My relationship with food has never been great. I honestly can’t even remember a time when my eating habits were truly healthy. Even as a young child, I would eat out of boredom all throughout the day, especially right before bed. Practically all of my memories of food involve eating alone, in front of a screen. I have always been accustomed to over eating. I never really learned how to tune in to the “hungry” or “full” signals my body was sending me. Whenever I would attempt to reign in my eating or go on a diet, it inevitably ended in an even worse result like over restricting, binging, or purging.

Even though food and eating was always a problem area in my life, it was a huge part of it nonetheless. Problems with food are especially tricky. Unlike other unhealthy addictions, food isn’t something that we can just “quit.” Imagine if an alcoholic needed alcohol throughout the day to live. I think it would be much harder to manage that than never touching liquor again. I really thought for most of my life that I was doomed to keep repeating the same unhealthy cycles with food, never truly finding a healthy balance.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a technique called mindful eating. I had heard it was effective for helping people to stop binge eating. I gave it a try in the past, but only managed to keep it up for couple meals. It is surprisingly hard to take away that mindless zoned out comfort of stuffing your face while watching your favorite shows. I told myself at the time that I just couldn’t handle giving that up. As sad as it may sound, it felt like my one joy, the favorite part of my day.

Fast forward to now, years of yoga and meditation later, and I am finally ready to try again. For the past three days I’ve been trying to live more mindfully in general, but especially when it comes to food and eating. It’s helped me to imagine how my meals would have been in the past when there was no technology to supplement them. I try to imagine generations upon generations of human beings who came before me having meals. I think, this is what a small piece of life must have felt like for my parents, my grandparents, etc. It helps me to feel connected even when I’m eating alone.

I sat down before my dinner last night and watched a couple short videos about how to eat mindfully. I actually began laughing at one point at the sheer absurdity of it all. What a strange world we humans have created for ourselves. A world where we are so disconnected from ourselves and our bodies that there are actually instructional videos on something as basic to our nature as eating. Even so, these videos reminded me of all the little pleasures of food that I have been so carelessly missing my whole life.

When was the last time you paused to smell your food before digging in? Have you ever touched the food to your lips before taking a bite? Do you let yourself eat with you hands when you can? Notice all of the many textures and shapes of this nourishing matter. Notice the colors and contours. Notice the way the mere presence of food illicits a reaction from the body. Our mouths starting to salivate in preparation for digestion. Take the time to eat as slowly, really exploring the way the food feels and tastes in your mouth.

It has been an amazing experience to get back in touch with my body and really start to savor and fully enjoy my food. It is fascinating to take the seat of the observer as I navigate my interactions with food. Mindful eating for me is definitely still something I need more practice with. It is surprisingly hard to sit in silence with my food. It is actually really challenging to eat slowly, to chew thoroughly. I can feel my body switching into autopilot as soon as my food is ready. As I am eating I constantly catch myself zoning out, entranced almost. It takes real effort to concentrate and eat with intention, utilizing all my senses.

I will say that even my far from ideal mindful eating practice has helped me tremendously. Not only with food, but in my life in general. I have been feeling much less anxious over these past few days. My body feels happy, healthy, and respected. I’ve been able to enjoy my food more and feel more satisfied after a meal. Although the urge to binge is still there, especially after dinner, I’ve managed to overcome that urge so far by making sure I am eating enough throughout the day.

For anyone struggling with an unhealthy relationship to food, I would highly recommend giving mindful eating a try. It has definitely been a challenge, but one that I am so excited to keep working at. If you’d like to read more about what mindful eating is and learn strategies for how best to practice it, I found a free pdf of the book Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers. One of the mindful eating videos I found recommended it and I am excited to check it out myself. I truly feel that a mindful eating practice is a beautiful way to get back to our roots as human beings and rediscover what it really means to be alive in these amazing bodies of ours.

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