Today It Was About Me

5588872236_fcf0856f51_m“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou

It wasn’t something I planned. It wasn’t scheduled. It simply presented and I invited it in. I took a mental break today. Within the sanctuary of my own home and property, I reacquainted with myself. It was an interesting combination of being self-centered and being self-aware.

Sure I had activities and deliverables that could have captured my attention. There may have even been a more prudent use of the day. But my heart spoke. And I always heed my heart.

I read. I napped. I played and exercised with Logan and Bailey. I soaked in the jacuzzi. I listened to some favorite music. I prepped a delicious dinner. I didn’t think too much. And surprisingly, it wasn’t a total waste of those cumulative moments.

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I’m still smiling about all of it. 🙂

There’s a real danger in allowing ourselves to be entirely consumed by the next urgent task. If we never hit pause, we lose something important: space in which to think creatively, learn, consider problems and opportunities from a different perspective and perhaps, even dip our toes into unchartered waters.

This wasn't me. :)

This wasn’t me.

If the prospect of being at home wherever you find yourself is warming, here are three thoughts that might coax you into pausing more frequently:

  1. Sans intent. When you’re rushing to a solution or deadline, your mind will jump to the most familiar path. Yet when you allow yourself to look out the window for a few minutes and ponder, your brain will amaze you with new possibilities. It is this sort of unconscious creativity that leads to different perspectives. Think about how thoughts come to you when driving or in the shower. If you do create space in which to experience unobstructed thinking, be sure you do so with no specific intentions.
  2. Know when you need this. This doesn’t apply to dealing with inaction or procrastination. But If you know you are ready to stop, let go, and breathe, then a pause may well be in order.
  3. Simplify. When you have social commitments, shopping to complete and/or a home to keep up, focusing on yourself can be challenging. Be okay with saying “no” (even to yourself). Try not to over-schedule. And learn simple ways to take care of yourself. Being occasionally selfish is not a “bad” thing.

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Stealing Time

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“Plant you own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” ~ Veronica Shoffstall

As I type I’m listening to Lisa Gerrard, one of my favorite artists. Her resonant voice has a way of reassuring me that everything is okay and that I’m aligned with my intended purpose and course.

When you’re in the thick of things, it’s hard to get much perspective. Perhaps you’re struggling with a particular decision or you find yourself putting off decisions or making hasty choices if you don’t intentionally pause and reflect. When you’re engaged in any creative activity – writing, designing, running a business – it’s important to create space (some may call this down-time). You need to get away from the constant busyness in order to do the best work that you can.

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Not even a decade ago we weren’t exposed to nearly as much information as we are now. Compare today to a short 50 years ago and the change is mammoth. Processing all this information can be overwhelming, measurably because much of it is useless to us. We need to use our developed cognitive abilities to cope and survive. With so much information having little to do with our personal lives… our well-being, stealing some time away from the helter-skelter can be incredibly relieving.

So I am. I’m going to take some time to decorate my soul. I’ll be offline (and in an undisclosed location) for the next week. Some of us know when time for a break is important.

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I’ll leave you with three reflections tied to solitude, as shared in this post. Some people are blessed with an abundance of time and have the luxury of its being discretionary. For those who presently have less time, consider claiming an hour, a day, or a week, whatever you need to decorate your own soul.

  1. Avoid mindless consumption. When you’re alone you have beautiful opportunities to think clearly about your life and the direction you want to take it. In the “mitote” of today’s world, you’ve earned quiet. If during that time you gain clarity about your path, what fulfills you, or how you’re feeling about what you spend your days doing – then it will have been time well spent. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose epiphany; simple glimmers and insights are valuable too!
  2. Quiet time is often lucid time. Simply sitting down and thinking through a problem can result in very effective solutions. Yet even if a solution isn’t immediately forthcoming, just thinking things through and understanding a problem can bring peace and a certain courage to carry on.
  3. Find a good spot for contemplation. During the week it’s often hard to make time and reunite with nature (or whatever setting works for you). Yet even time for simple walks in fresh air, maybe a very local visualization outing, can bring some clarity and lend a new perspective. Try to find a ‘place of power’ that gives you true inspiration.

Me… Stressed??

“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

This past Sunday we experienced what meteorologists call a “100 year rain event.” Put simply, it means we got slammed. I live in the desert and when rains of this magnitude fall, it is impossible for the arid land to absorb so much water in such a compressed period of time. It yields massive flooding and it literally sweeps away what you would never imagine being uprooted and moved.

It’s unnerving to watch portions of your property wash down an arroyo. It’s frustrating when years of manual labor and xeriscaping simply vanishes. It’s been a physically and emotionally draining week.

Wednesday evening, exhausted, I finally created time to put what had happened into perspective. I looked at Bailey and Logan (my canine companions) and started to laugh, at them and myself! After days of massive cleaning up, where neighbors slogged and rallied to support each other, I realized that it was just earth and rocks and trees and railroad ties. And how important are they? 🙂

My focus shifted to how fortunate we were. In the bigger global picture, I’m still abundantly blessed. There was no loss of life, the interior of the house was undamaged, electricity was eventually restored and life will go on. Me… stressed? Perhaps then. Me… grateful? Absolutely now.

Before

Before. Peaceful. Prethreatened.

After. It's worse than it looks.

After. It’s worse than it looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there take-aways? Sure there are.

1) I found my way back to positive thinking which, in this case, meant that I approached unpleasantness in a positive and productive way. I changed my self-talk to align with the best is going to happen, not the worst. I (eventually) paused and chose to cope, thus mitigating the harmful effects of stress.

2) When I got around to laughing, I was focused on Bailey and Logan. Many are unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that accompany time shared with pets. They’re mood enhancers! Studies have shown that pets lower blood pressure in stressful situations and it doesn’t have to be a cat or a dog. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension.

3) I realized I still possessed what mattered; family, health and friends. Researchers from The Australian Longitudinal Study on Aging looked at 1,500 men and women for a full decade. Among their findings was that having good friends is more likely to increase health and longevity than even close relationships with other family members. The researchers speculate that the emotional support friends provide one another during difficult times, contributes stress reduction benefits as a result of feeling connected to other people.

It’s Not Always So

“At any given moment you have the power to say this is NOT how the story is going to end. ” ~ Author Unknown

Many of us have received or know someone who has received a serious medical diagnosis. Perhaps a terminal pronouncement. Even with access to second and possibly more professional opinions, despair and resignation often sets in.

This post is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and treatment. And I’m not advocating self-diagnosis. What I am trying to create awareness around is that you are not always your diagnosis. To significant extents, in some cases, one’s physical and mental wellness is more about perspective, choice, and mind-set.

A diagnosis is inherently a label that denotes that sickness or pathology is present. Invariably, a diagnosis is then associated with negative emotional responses and assumptions, which stimulate stress responses to varying degrees.

In reality, a diagnosis reflects an imbalance in the body that is caused by a variety of factors – genetics and lifestyle behaviors being just two of them. When someone understands they are not their diagnosis, nor are they prisoners to it, they start the process of breaking free from limiting beliefs and labels. This opens the door to the possibility that a positive outcome is possible.

Illness and life problems can be reckoned with and other options for outcomes are possible. People have a choice about how they are going to go about handling their challenge(s).

Modern (Western) medicine offers success rates for recovery greater than ever before, even for serious illnesses. Some situations that would have been considered hopeless are now viewed as fairly commonplace, with patients routinely surviving and thriving. Even with medical advancements, though, there are still conditions where modern medicine holds no promise of recovery. For these patients, as well as those who simply prefer to explore treatment outside the medical mainstream, there is an ever-growing arena of alternative medicine approaches.

Given that “it’s not always so,” there are many things one can do if diagnosed with a serious ailment. Among them, these three:

  1. Do what makes you happy first. Sometimes one can feel like they’re going through days on autopilot. That can get tedious and depressing. Consider starting the day off on a positive note by engaging in an enjoyable activity. This can completely shift one’s outlook and lift the spirit.
  2. Help someone else. Take the focus away from you and do something nice for another person. It can take your mind off of more challenging things and you’ll likely feel better helping someone else.
  3. Take time to strengthen/rejuvenate your mind and body. The treatment road ahead could be grueling and you’ll want to be in good physical and emotional condition. Go on long hikes in the mountains, eat super healthy foods, and meditate. Picture yourself (if the patient is you) healthy and visualize good strong blood cells destroying whatever has invaded your body.

There is truth to the saying “mind over body.” Augmenting positive beliefs with positive lifestyle changes, can yield amazing outcomes. I know this.

Your Senses: Their Worth

 “Memories establish the past; Senses perceive the present; Imaginations shape the future.” ~ Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut

Earlier this month I attended an annual gathering of Master Coaches and other Professional Masters. It was held at a beautiful San Diego property. One evening while seated at an outdoor reception (ten attendees to a table), we were provided with random written prompts (as if we were incapable of initiating conversation). 🙂

The prompts were creative and thought-provoking. And they stimulated an interesting range of perspectives and responses. Then our table was presented with an age-old question: If you were to lose one of your five senses, which would you most regret losing and why?

I suspect most of us have fielded this question and have a fairly good idea how we’d respond. And I did, too, until I listened, carefully, to others describe their personal experiences and rationale. Several of the explanations shared, I’d not previously considered. And I found myself being open to yet more ways of thinking about and appreciating our physical senses.

There are many gifts in life that we take for granted. Or at least, that we don’t often reflect upon. Until we lose what is precious to us, we simply surmise that “it” will always be around.

It doesn’t hurt to rekindle relationships with what matters to you. In fact, it may be a timely reacquainting. So here’s an exercise you are welcome to try. It’s about engaging your five senses, for at least one minute each (just estimate the time). The point is to focus on the present moment and how each sense is being activated in that moment.

Hearing: Begin to relax by just noticing all of the sounds around you. Give yourself permission to suspend your judgment of the sounds. They are not good or bad, they just are. Are you now hearing more than you were when you started? Subtle sounds may have previously gone unnoticed. Can you hear them now?

Smell: Now shift your concentration to noticing the smells of your environment. Is somebody cooking lunch in your building or home? Can you detect the electronics smell of your computer or fresh air coming in through your window? Try closing your eyes so you can focus on the subtlest of scents.

Sight: If you closed your eyes a moment ago, open them now and notice the colors, shapes and textures of your surroundings. If you really look, just about everything has color variation and texture that may have gone unnoticed. How many shades of blue and red? Any color missing?

Taste: You can do this one regardless of whether you have food to put in your mouth. If you don’t have food, just notice your tongue in your mouth, your saliva, and your breath as you exhale. If you have a snack, take a small bite and notice all of the flavors and textures that arise. Run your tongue over your teeth and cheeks – what do you notice?

Touch: Where did you place your hands when you first started this exercise? Notice the sensation of where your hands meet something solid like the fabric of your clothes or the surface of your desk? Notice the pressure between your feet and the floor. Try feeling the textures that you noticed by sight a moment ago. To fully ground yourself and bring the exercise to a close, stand up and bring energy and sensation to all parts of your body.

Quite simply, your senses are amazingly valuable. Heightening awareness of them, renews your appreciation for their worth.

Present Moment Mind-set

“But non-doing doesn’t have to be threatening to people who feel they always have to get things done. They might find they get even more ‘done,’ and done better, by practicing non-doing. Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way. Enormous effort can be involved, but it is a graceful, knowledgeable, effortless effort, a ‘doerless doing,’ cultivated over a lifetime.”  ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Yes this is the longest quote with which I’ve opened a post. Consider reading it again.

Recently, I wrote about patience. And no sooner did I share thoughts about the art of patience, then mine was tested. 🙂 I am rarely one to become angry with an individual who is lost or confused. My inclination is to understand and help, if possible. But if we have a driving experience in which we find ourselves feeling impatient, we can become agitated. The flip side is that by experiencing these feelings, we have an opportunity to see ourselves and monitor/change our reaction(s). So what did I do?

Here is something to ponder: As we age, chronologically, do we become more thoughtful and accepting of others’ behavior or do we become impatient and increasingly opinionated? My take is that whatever is showing up in our current experience is meant to be there or it wouldn’t be. This helps me put things into perspective. And even if you do not believe in fate, what happens in the present moment helps us to consider that everything has a useful meaning or purpose.

Put simply, being in the present moment (similar to flow), with any given situation, is about losing yourself in whatever you are doing – forgetting about the outside world and choosing to instead, focus your perspective. In my driving example and from a place of awareness, I can then choose to feel compassion for those who are banging their steering wheels and honking their horns at a confused driver, rather than join in (which I did not).

If mindfulness and being in the present moment seem an attractive ‘space,’ these three acts may help:

  1. When you eat, just eat. (Note to self:) When you are eating, do not think or read about something else or type a blog post. Just eat. Pay attention to what you are eating. Experience it – the taste, the texture. Savor the moment. Just do what you are doing now, and nothing else.
  2. Accept things. Acceptance of an unpleasant state does not mean you do not have goals for the future. It just means that certain things are beyond your control. Sadness, stress and/or pain is there whether you like it or not. Better to embrace the feeling as it is.
  3. Do one thing at a time. Quite often when we multi-task, our attention is never 100% where it ought to be. Not all multi-tasking is negative, but we can focus on being in the present moment for the task at hand. If you try to do one thing at a time, your goal for mindfulness would be easier and you would likely feel less stressed, yet still productive.

This One Can Be Tough

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open.” ~ Arnold Glasgow

The noun impatience is defined, in part, as: “the state of endurance under difficult circumstances which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance in a negative way.” Its opposite, patience, is something many of us strive to practice; an attribute to be cultivated. And boy can it be challenging.

Most of us (even animals!) are inclined to favor short-term rewards over long-term rewards. This helps to explain the adage, patience is a virtue. Over simplified, patience can be illustrated in three simple, progressive steps: Persistence. Acceptance. Serenity or calmness. Yet it is hard to practice.

When we are patient and able to pause and observe without reacting, we begin to see a situation (or the world) more fully and clearly. We become aware of when to move forward and when to be still. Patience allows us to act more mindfully and wisely. And it keeps our anger turned off! Like any skill, it must be practiced and it helps to have simple ways to show us how to improve. For your consideration, here are three:

  1. Take only inspired action. If you find yourself in frustration, desperately trying to force some kind of action to bring about your result, you are pushing too hard. Stop it. Go back to meditation and wait for an insight or a strong desire to do something. Don’t force it. Flow with it. Remember, if it is not fun, you are doing it wrong.
  2. Get a slow pet. You can always get a turtle and watch it every night and admire its patient way of life. Watching a turtle or snail can lull you into a meditative state of mind and you will be able to learn and likely appreciate the power of patience.
  3. Remember what is important. Some times we tend to get upset over little things. In the long run, these things tend not to matter, but in the heat of the moment, we might forget this. Stop yourself, and try to get things in perspective.

An Invitation and a Challenge

“A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams.” ~ Yiddish Proverb

A few days ago I wrote about the importance in preplanning for end-of-life needs, be they our own or for a loved one. If you glanced over the post and moved on, be advised: I am revisiting the subject, from a different perspective.

For your consideration, here is a link that lists the Top 37 Things Dying People Say They Regret. My simple invitation is for you to take three minutes to scroll through this compilation.

Part I of the challenge is (I know, this may be difficult for some) to choose one of the regrets listed – that you will commit to not having in your life. Or… perhaps you are aware of another regret that you want to ensure does not manifest.

Part II is to share (in comments, if you are comfortable) why you are choosing to brighten your life by eliminating the risk of that regret.

It is my hope that this exercise creates a bit of positive awareness and makes you feel good.

Outside Looking In

“There are two sorts of curiosity – the momentary and the permanent. The momentary is concerned with the odd appearance on the surface of things. The permanent is attracted by the amazing and consecutive life that flows on beneath the surface of things.” ~ Robert Lynd

We all, I believe, have invaluable human encounters during our lives. One of mine happened in June, 2011. I was traveling cross-country and her name was Rose. She was considerably my senior and I, her captive audience for a while. I’ll share the full story of Rose in a later this spring post. Suffice it to say, Rose stunningly grounded my belief in the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” a quote attributed to author George Elliot in 1860 and that became popular in the 1920’s.

Perhaps you have had the experience of encountering someone whose life seems so completely different from yours that you can almost imagine having nothing in common. However, if you go deeper into observing, you see that we all have the same things going on in our lives. It is as if our different lives are oddly, interconnected. We all experience a range of emotions. Many of us can have money, relationship and/or employment issues, and everyone struggles with different choices.

Your life and my life show up differently for us because we learn in different ways. One person may need to learn the value of money by having too little of it, while another may need to learn by having more than enough. We each learn about work and love, with experiences that are customized to our perspectives. Though it may seem some people have it easy while others are always struggling, the truth is that we are all learning and it is difficult to tell, when looking only at the exterior of a person, what is going on inside.

From Rose, I learned how this is true with people from all walks of life. As we get to know those who seem different from us, we get to see how much of life’s challenges and joys are common. We begin to look beyond one’s skin color, clothing preferences, social class differences, and what we drive – to the heart of the human experience. It is important to honor what is inside each of us, and the fact that, regardless of how different we appear to be, what is on the inside is often the same.

For those interested in further exploring this, here are three suggested actions:

  • Listen to the people around you. People crave for attention. People feel loved when given attention. Give love. Listening is an act of love.
  • Talk to someone you think might be in distress. You don’t always need an invitation. You may make a difference of a lifetime.
  • Live without limits. Some limits are positive and necessary (like speed limits), but a lot of the limits we place on ourselves inhibit us from experiencing all of what we have to offer. Limits like fearing to reach out to a homeless person or talk to strangers, restrict the flow of kindness in our lives.