Category Archives: Mindfulness & Stress Management

A Walk on the Beach Part II

Vlog – A Walk on the Beach part 2 #keepingitreal

What happens when we stop counting our steps

A few times a year I try to get away on a personal retreat. It’s nothing fancy, I simply stay at a friend’s place and attempt to catch up on work, write and listen to myself. While on my recent retreat to Florida, I was faced with a distressing realization – I multi-task constantly, am impatient and rarely give any one thing my full attention.

The fact that we have to leave town to do our work is telling enough. Our lives have become so busy, so layered, and the boundaries between work, life and play so blurred that we find it difficult being present for any one thing.

Instead of diving deep into what’s in front of us, we attempt to maximize productivity during any activity, even when the purpose of the activity is pleasure. But I’m beginning to wonder—is all this layering about efficiency or is it really about distraction?

Take my daily walks on the beach. I turn up at sunset to enjoy the beauty of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico. (No doubt in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Maybe there’s a tweetable or great IG shot here somewhere?”) Aside from the pelicans, I have the place nearly to myself. It’s quiet, peaceful and yet the first thing that comes to mind is making this walk a workout. Instead of being present for a contemplative stroll on the deserted shoreline, my mind was busy calculating how many calories I could burn.

I went back the next day, determined to simply have a good time and proud of myself for setting aside productivity in favor of enjoyment. But the day was cloudy, the sea dark and moody and instead of joy, I felt melancholy. It occurred to me this might be why we don’t dive deep; if we skim the surface of life, filling our time with distractions in the name of productivity without truly immersing ourselves in anything, we can escape any emotions, perhaps unpleasant ones, that might bubble up from within.

A practice for making change

Here’s a simple practice to help us focus on one thing at a time. The next time you take a walk:

  • Leave your phone at home or at least turn it to silent.
  • As you walk, look around. Notice the birds, the trees and the sky.
  • If you’re walking your dog, pay attention to your dog.
  • Observe any thoughts or feelings that arise.
  • That’s it. Just walk!

Voilà! You’re doing one thing at a time. Congratulations.

A Walk on the Beach part I

Vlog A Walk on the Beach part I – #keepingitreal

Stunning scenery and I’m counting steps. Seriously?

A few times a year I try to get away on a personal retreat. It’s nothing fancy, I simply stay at a friend’s place and attempt to catch up on work, write and listen to myself. While on my recent retreat to Florida, I was faced with a distressing realization – I multi-task constantly, am impatient and rarely give any one thing my full attention.

The fact that we have to leave town to do our work is telling enough. Our lives have become so busy, so layered, and the boundaries between work, life and play so blurred that we find it difficult being present for any one thing.

Instead of diving deep into what’s in front of us, we attempt to maximize productivity during any activity, even when the purpose of the activity is pleasure. But I’m beginning to wonder—is all this layering about efficiency or is it really about distraction?

Take my daily walks on the beach. I turn up at sunset to enjoy the beauty of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico. (No doubt in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Maybe there’s a tweetable or great IG shot here somewhere?”) Aside from the pelicans, I have the place nearly to myself. It’s quiet, peaceful and yet the first thing that comes to mind is making this walk a workout. Instead of being present for a contemplative stroll on the deserted shoreline, my mind was busy calculating how many calories I could burn.

I went back the next day, determined to simply have a good time and proud of myself for setting aside productivity in favor of enjoyment. But the day was cloudy, the sea dark and moody and instead of joy, I felt melancholy. It occurred to me this might be why we don’t dive deep; if we skim the surface of life, filling our time with distractions in the name of productivity without truly immersing ourselves in anything, we can escape any emotions, perhaps unpleasant ones, that might bubble up from within.

A practice for making change

Here’s a simple practice to help us focus on one thing at a time. The next time you take a walk:

  • Leave your phone at home or at least turn it to silent.
  • As you walk, look around. Notice the birds, the trees and the sky.
  • If you’re walking your dog, pay attention to your dog.
  • Observe any thoughts or feelings that arise.
  • That’s it. Just walk!

Voilà! You’re doing one thing at a time. Congratulations.

 

I can't sleep image

Vlog – I Can’t Sleep #keepingitreal

Time to make some changes. What we do, matters.

Keeping it Real

Vlog – I’m Okay, You’re Okay #keepingitreal

No editing; I’m keeping it real

Keeping it Real

I’ve been on Instagram a lot lately promoting my upcoming Middle East workshops. And I’ve fallen into the classic social media pitfall: while perusing others’ feeds, I’ve felt that mine isn’t good enough. While the pictures of my standard poodle Oscar are cute, where’s my theme? What’s my instagram strategy? Am I truly inspiring and educating my followers?

Around the same time that these feelings of insecurity hit, I was listening to a podcast where the host was talking about social media, and admitted that she doesn’t post content confessing how stressed out she is or pictures of herself when she’s not looking stellar. I’ve fallen into this trap as well. I don’t do my make up before taking a selfie, but I do attempt to represent the idyllic side of mindfulness and meditation, making little mention of its struggles.

The convergence of these two occurrences got me thinking.

Once I extracted myself from my jealousy, I could see what was happening and I didn’t necessarily like what I saw, in my own mind or with the psychological games that social media plays with its’ users. We’re all presenting slightly disingenuous versions of our own lives, all the while angsting over the fact that the real thing doesn’t match up with the image presented by the people we follow.

Meditation teaches us to see our minds from an observer’s role, which allows us to identify less with our thoughts (such as, “My Instagram feed isn’t good enough.”) and watch them instead, as if from a third-person point of view. (“Hmm…I’m feeling jealous of so-and-so’s Instagram feed. I wonder what that’s all about?”) The idea is to separate ourselves just a bit, and when we do, we are less likely to be held hostage by our emotions. As the bard penned for Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So I’m trying an experiment; my new vlog is one in a series of #keepingitreal. Instead of portraying a picture of what I think a mindfulness teacher’s life should look like—me sitting on piles of meditation cushions with a look of inner peace on my face and incense smoke floating behind me—I’ll show you real snapshots from my world where I may be feeling calm, frustrated or gasp, even angry. Because on any given day, we are faced with moments when we’re feeling weak and vulnerable.

I’m going to continue to use Instagram. When I do, I’ll try to step back and watch for the green-eyed monster and any associated feelings of inadequacy. And when they surface, because they will, I’ll do my best to observe these feelings for what they are—nothing but feelings. I’m also going resist temptation to depict my Instagram account and my life as something it’s not. I’ll admit when I’m stressed, post when I’m not feeling well and show my face with bags under my eyes. I’ll be #keepingitreal.

On the Bus

Vlog—On the Bus

A trip to Ireland, public transportation and what’s up with the rush?

On the Bus

Recent world events may have us shaken, and rightfully so. When the world seems crazy and uncertain, it’s all the more important to make time for grounding practices. This could include yoga, meditation and writing a gratitude list each and every day. There are far too many horrible incidents taking place, but there is still beauty in our world. When exposed to endless reports of doom and despair, it can be easy to feel helpless and hopeless. Reconnecting to our mindfulness practice is one way to help us feel solid, even if the earth seems to be shaking beneath us.

Another way to feel more grounded is to renew our commitment to what’s important. I renewed mine recently by taking time off of work to travel with some of the important people in my life. It can be hard to counter our drive to succeed and please with what may seem like a frivolity, when there’s nothing frivolous about creating the opportunity to make memories and connect with those you love.

As we approach cooler weather, shorter days and longer nights, it’s natural for us to turn inward and even hibernate just a bit. This change of seasons sets the perfect backdrop for examining our priorities and asking ourselves if they align with where we’re spending our time and resources.

Quiet time, perhaps in the now darkening hours of the morning, can help us identify what matters most, and shed light on the fact that the glass is half empty, yet always half full. If we’ve gotten off track, the best time to return is always now.

One camel said to the other

Humor as Deflection

Is it worth a chuckle? Or simply a form of denial?

One camel said to the other

My former boyfriend (FBF) and I had a difference that caused a recurring issue: when I had something weighing on my mind, he liked to keep things light and playful. When I needed to express something potentially difficult to say or hear, his response, in attempt to lighten my mood, was often humor.

When we have something to share, something serious, like a hurt, fear or intense emotion, we want to be heard and understood. It can be hurtful if, instead of holding space for our feelings, our partner or friend tries to deflect our pain with comedy. No matter how well intended, when FBF tried to make me laugh instead of allowing me to experience my emotions, I felt dismissed and that my feelings weren’t important. Over time, I closed up, stopped sharing and assumed I didn’t matter to him.

Intense emotions can be uncomfortable for an innocent bystander. When we’re upset, passions can escalate quickly and it’s easy to assume that the fear, anger or hurt is intended for us. But trying to deflect someone’s sadness or hurt because of our own discomfort is a tactic that often creates frustration for both parties. If someone tries to hold our arms down, it makes us want to flap them all the more, which makes the holder try even harder to hold! It’s an all-around unsatisfying experience.

It can be tough to know how to respond when someone is ripe with pain. It may be natural to try and be witty as a stab at relieving the atmosphere and deflecting the emotional intensity. However, like trying to fix things, working to be funny to shift the conversation is nothing more than a struggle to avoid discomfort. Worse, it diverts the attention from the person who needs it to the person who’s supposed to be giving it. And even worse yet, humor as a response doesn’t acknowledge the hurting person’s pain. In fact, it says, Oh ya, shame you’re hurting but listen to how clever I am.

While everyone has their own personal style for expressing emotion and a preferred prescription for receiving support, meditation philosophy teaches us that it’s okay to feel. It teaches us that all thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve to be heard; nothing is either good or bad, but how we think about it that makes it so. When we sit in silence, we learn to hear and feel our pain – literally and figuratively. And we learn to be with it.

No offense to the stand up comics among us, FBF included. They are only trying to comfort us in the way they know how. However, it seems in our world today we are too anxious for a snicker. It appears that nearly everyone is spinning nearly everything into a clever pun, punch line, or parody of Donald Trump. We’ve been brainwashed by the instant gratification culture that it’s all good. Well, it’s not. And that’s okay.

Looking for a laugh in an uncomfortable situation, especially a serious one, is avoidance. If, instead of holding space in a pregnant pause, we rush to fill the awkward silence with clowning, we’re selling out. When we make a game of something that’s difficult, it keeps us from having to stare it in the face.

When I was going through my divorce, a very influential teacher told me to embrace the beauty of my current state of rawness. She urged me to not shirk from the pain but to let my body soften so it could flow through me. When we’ve been stripped bare, we can feel both the beauty and sting of life even more deeply, and actually, this is a gift.

So bring it on, good, bad and indifferent. No diversions. Like drinking or doing drugs, constantly searching for a laugh is sometimes nothing but an attempt to avoid unpleasant feelings. Sure, humor can be a harmless and fun form of coping, but it’s also mighty powerful to be able to sit through pain, our own or that of someone we love, without cracking a joke.

Q: What do yoga, meditation and an apple peeler have in common? 
A: They both take you to the core.

A pile of shoes

The State of the Mind

De-cluttering as an exercise in clearing our mind

A pile of shoes

Clutterers, let’s come out of the closet! For those of us with an attachment to stuff, and in possession of headless dolls, yellowed newspaper clippings and multiple sets of dishes, it’s time to crawl out from under the piles and admit that all of this clutter is cluttering our minds.

If our load has us weighed down, be it literally or figuratively, it can be helpful to call in outside reinforcements. In the case of my jammed cupboards, I needed help, so recently I hired a clutter coach; at least that’s what I call her. Her name is Nikki, and what she really does is encourage, provide accountability and offer a fresh approach to freedom.

What does the state of our sock drawer have to do with the state of our mind?

Meditation teaches us, “…as above, so below.” In the case of clutter, “as in our lives, so in our minds.” If our surroundings are cluttered and overflowing with disorder, we’re likely to be as well. If one aspect of us is in disarray, it can’t help but create confusion in the others.

When we sort through our junk, mental cobwebs begin to lift. At times this process may leave us feeling tremendously vulnerable and afraid. It can be hard to let go of keepsakes that hold emotional significance, as if the memory or experience is somehow alive in a piece of paper. But letting go externally means moving on internally. Ridding ourselves of superfluous stuff, and any associated emotional baggage, frees us to focus our energies on the present. It allows us to create space, and in that space, there is freedom.

De-cluttering is not only practical, but good juju as well.

It’s simple. Weeding out our possessions gets rid of old news. Some of us hang onto things out of obligation, fear or because “Aunt Ethel gave me that and someday she’ll be gone.” Once duty-bound, fear-based and guilt-ridden items are out of the house, the associated negative feelings are also out of our minds.

This principle spills over, out of our closets, into our lives. As we practice our pruning skills on things that don’t really matter, like our sock drawer, we gain the confidence to thin other areas of our world. The end result leaves us with unencumbered spaces, clearer minds and less distraction from interference.

I’m no longer interested in being an overwhelmed, closed up person who leaves things left undone, un-put away, and unhealed.

When we gain awareness of our attachment to things, we have the opportunity to re-evaluate what’s important. Then, we can prioritize our energy and resources accordingly. With awareness, we shift from being mired in the mess, to moving on to what really matters. When we clean up after ourselves we can make a peaceful space in our homes and in our brains.

Do we all need to hire a clutter coach? Not necessarily. But if our homes are too busy, our minds tend to follow suit. If beginning a new endeavor requires cleaning up from a previous one, we probably have some work to do. We can all ask, what can we let go of? Where can we create space? Where can we find freedom? Then look around and pick the first pile.

Interested in working with Dr. Nikki Crawford to find your peaceful space?  Contact her via email at yourpeacefulspace@gmail.com, or through her website. http://yourpeacefulspace.com/

Cluttered feels like:                                             De-cluttered feels like:

[twocol_one]Chaos

Frustration

Delay

Stuck

Fearful

Procrastination

Scattered

Rushed

Overwhelmed

Angst

Discomfort

[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]Open

Spacious

Available

Brave

Freedom

At ease

Effective

Efficient

Fluid

Peaceful

Creative

[/twocol_one_last]

Know Love

Happy Valentine’s Day

What is love, anyway?

Know Love
Artist Amber Lea @ dearyoutattoo

According to the calendar, ‘tis the season of love. For many of us, February conjures up sentimental memories of those little boxes of heart-shaped candies printed with strange sayings, white paper doilies, and shoeboxes stuffed with Peanuts Valentine cards. This year, my memories also include a not-so-nostalgic reminder that two years ago on February 1, I moved out of the home I shared with my ex-husband and into a tiny little bungalow with a new main man—my standard poodle, Oscar.

I don’t think there’s a Hallmark card for that.

Maybe because Valentine’s Day is around the corner, or maybe because of the painful reminder of a failed romance, but lately, I’ve been doing a lot of ruminating about love.

What is love anyway?

As I approach the two-year anniversary of my divorce, it makes me wonder, do we put too much pressure and importance on the thought of love, and does this thinking limit us from experiencing true love? Just this past week as I taught a yoga class, one of the students commented, “I’d be better off if I didn’t have a brain,” as she tried a balancing posture. I think what she was so poignantly saying was that her thoughts were getting in the way of her half moon. Of course, we need our brains. But the thinking they do can cause all kinds of problems.

The narrative our brains may have about love is not necessarily true or helpful. We expect it to be pleasant, fulfilling and even mystical, but often love is harrowing. To truly love someone or something leaves you vulnerable to that very loss, yet loss is an unavoidable part of life. It is inevitable that sometimes the people and things we love and the things we lose will be the same.

Love is a never-ending flow of emotions we can get to know through meditation.

When we sit in quiet and give our minds permission to still, we can listen to our hearts and experience our feelings as they are —good, bad and ugly. Sitting with our thoughts creates space for us to know the pain of our past and its extinguished possibilities, while revealing the hope of unknown love that allows us to move forward. Meditation teaches us that no matter how joyous or painful, whatever our hearts are experiencing, it is love.

Believing in love means being courageous enough to stop thinking and to open up to everything that we feel, no matter how happy or sad. It means listening to the beating of our own heart.

Give yourself the best Valentine of all; take the time to sit, listen and feel, for that is love.

Published by Elephant Journal as What is Love Anyway?