Mindful Life - How Do We Get There?
Summer is always more hectic than the school year for my family, especially as the kids get older and more independent. During the school year, the kids are in one place from 7:30am-3pm. It’s just the after-school activities that we have to track of, but it’s similar each week. We know, for example, every Tuesday for nine or ten months we have 20 minutes for dinner? In summer however, every day is different. Some days teen camp, some days home, at a friend’s house, on the golf course, etc., resulting in numerous texts and the need for constant attention. "Why did lunch with friends take 3 hours, I thought it was just lunch?" "I thought you were going to be home for dinner?"
I’ve always said I never mind when one part of my life is chaotic – personal or work – after all, you can’t have complete calm. (Or can you?) But when I find both are utter chaos, that’s when I really dig deep and zone in. I know I have to manage my energy, recognizing I’m entering the “little sleep” zone just to keep my head above water. Every moment is precious because every minute is scheduled, and I look for the date when I think I will all be over. Trouble comes when there is no end in sight, or the deadline keeps getting pushed. You begin to wonder if this isn’t chaos, but the new normal? For me, it’s been both. I’ve had “busy periods” at work that have lasted longer than anticipated, only to end so another can start – usually a new crisis is a result of something I ignored during the last crisis. On the personal side, there was someone in my office who lost her father-in law, her own parents were progressively becoming ill, she changed jobs, her husband started his own company, and for no good reason I can think of :) they decided to get a puppy in the middle of it all! I think we’ve all had times when we tell ourselves, “I know God/the universe never gives us more than we can handle, but I swear he’s really pushing the envelope right now!”
In Skyfall, James Bond is told he is “a kite caught in a hurricane.” Similarly, I’ve felt like I’m in a whirlpool and I just can’t seem to pull myself out, no matter how hard I swim. That’s when, while we may not be able to physically get out, we have to take ourselves out mentally and visually – to get a 30,000' view of what is happening, much like the picture here, taken on my flight to NYC this week.
I’ve been reading and listening to teachings on mindfulness and imagery lately. If you dumb it down, mindfulness is our ability to step out of ourselves and the situation and take a more objective, 30,000' view, if you will. When we can observe ourselves, our reactions and our environment, we tend to slow down, breathe, and gain the ability to respond more thoughtfully. In his book The Inside Edge: High Performance Through Mental Fitness, Peter Jensen explains that when we are stressed or anxious, our perception of what is happening around us shrinks – it’s as if we put blinders on and can only see what is directly in front instead of taking in all that is around us. That limited perception affects our senses and information, which can then alter our response. Case in point, I've told myself “I can only focus on what is in front of me.” Little did I know that I was mentally encouraging such a limited view! Early mindfulness research discusses “being” modes and “doing” modes, explaining that in more anxious times we shift out of being and become doers. It's more natural for the fight or flight mode that we closely identify with in times of stress. In that stressful state, however, we become that kite in a hurricane, and shift completely into doing mode. The researchers encourage us to shift to being mode. In a recent interview with Christopher Lyddy, PhD, an Darren Good, PhD, they suggest it may be more practical to accomplish a blend of being and doing, instead of switching from one to the other. They note that we are so wired to “do”, that it isn’t as easy as flipping as switch. I remember the first week I started teaching yoga. My class told me I needed to slow down. While I very much appreciated their feedback, I left class thinking that for the last 16 years I have only been told by clients (and myself) that I am never fast enough – I can never do enough in the time I have. Now they are telling me to slow down??
So how do we “be” more? What can we do to become more mindful? So many of us have been spending decades “doing” because every week (or day) is another fire to put out and it has become all we seem to know.
I personally like to start by biting off small pieces and then adding to them. A phrase I picked up and love is a “twitter version of presence” – small actions, mini moments that can then take you from that Twitter version, to a commercial, to the length of a song, etc. I personally started with 5 minutes of alternate nostril breathing each morning. Five minutes is very doable for me, even when I travel, and something I can stick with.
Other ideas include:
I’ve seen YouTube videos of 3min meditations – give one a try.
Get outside to take a brief walk. (mom always said the fresh air will do you some good)
The heck with the walk, have you looked outside lately? Noticed the sky?
Counting breath – inhalation to the count of two and exhalation to the count of four. This really helps calm a frazzled mind – I suggest repeating at least five times. You can look at my picture of the clouds, or even close your eyes.
As part of the Mindfulness at Work Summit, I did a 10-minute stretching exercise with Larissa Hall Carlson (an amazing yoga and Ayurvedic teacher) – loosening shoulders, wrists, ankles, spine and breathing in between each one. She talked about doing these movements on the plane, in the office, and on the train. (Contact me and I’ll give you the sequence.)
Set the intention in yoga class to focus on your breath. Make that the only thing you think about that day.
It might even be something as simple as leaving the current stressful environment and walking into another room. Congratulations on recognizing the stress was overtaking you!
Most importantly, start small and work from there. I've heard that particularly with meditation and breathing exercises, the benefits may not seem immediate, but over time they compound and earn interest! I know through my practice, I have gained a greater sense of calm and a more consistent start to each day. My husband even says I look better and seem happier. (Maybe I can get rid of a couple wrinkles too - inversions here I come!)
Got a suggestion of what you like to do? Comment on this blog!