Noticing rising frustration and judgement while calling the new mortgage company for the 3rd time because somehow ,they are not receiving our electronic payments and we may get charged late fees. Noticing anger and more frustration while submitting our flex plan claims for the 4th time because we are not being paid due to a new system glitch. Feeling overwhelming gratitude while remembering that I even have a mortgage, a health care plan to submit claims to, and a relative healthy body to make a call. It’s about being aware of all of it and judging none of it.
Gratitude is an essential component of being mindful. The overall practice is called cultivating positive states. States like compassion, gratitude, forgiveness are part of being mindful of one’s inner life and heart. Aside from encouraging kindness, acknowledging and cultivating these states add joy, happiness, and meaning to our lifes.
Full disclosure, I have a really hard time with gratitude. I don’t know if it was the way it was originally presented to me, for instance, when I was emotionally hurting or being challenged, someone would remind me that I had a lot to be thankful for. In that context, I always felt that somehow gratitude diminished my own suffering. It was as if the two, pain and gratitude, could not co-exist. That one emotion meant that the other was invalid. So every time I tried to practice gratitude I was aware of a subtle feeling that my suffering was invalid. A little voice would even tell me so. It was unfortunate because I wanted to feel gratitude.
Luckily I recently found a practice that helped. It takes you on a logical path of connection from how you care for your own life, to the things and people that have helped you on that path. For instance, think of the ways that you have cared for yourself in the past. Maybe you’ve gotten a college degree to increase your earning power. Maybe you go to the gym and eat right to care for your body. Maybe you followed your calling because it makes you feel good to make a difference. At the very least, you probably brush your teeth, shower, and feed yourself. If you think about it there are many ways that you care for your life everyday. Think of the ones that have the most meaning to you.
The next step is to become aware of all the people, systems, and things that have supported you in doing this care. With regard to your degree, there are the teachers, the classrooms that were built, the college system, the financial aid, etc. Caring for your diet involves people who grow, pick, and ship the food, the sunshine, the water system, your stove or your local grocer. Just think about who and what helped you along the way. It’s hard not to feel supported, when there is so much that supports us. It’s heartening to be mindful of the support.
This way of noticing helped me look at gratitude in a different way, it wasn’t dependent on the fact that I was complaining about or experiencing something uncomfortable. It was just an honest look at how I’ve been supported while trying to care for myself.
Today, on Memorial Day we can do the same practice. Let’s notice the ways we’ve cared for ourselves. And then let’s be aware of the freedoms that allow us to do that. I can think of the freedom to write and read our opinions, the freedom to love who we love, the freedom to worship in a way that is meaningful for us, the freedom to follow our values, the freedom to think and be educated, the freedom to feel relatively safe.
Now we can be mindful of those who fought for those freedoms. So many gave their lives so that others could have better lives. It’s important to be mindful of this often, if not just on Memorial Day, that what we enjoy comes from many, many others who gave selflessly.
I’m aware that regarding freedoms, there is still a lot of work to be done in this country. But on this Memorial Day may we be mindful of those that cared enough to care for us. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of them. <3
Mindfulness is not necessarily about being happy or changing what is. It’s about meeting the present moment experience with compassion and loving kindness. Sometimes you just need an umbrella.
Graphic courtesy of Mutts.com
As you might imagine my facebook feed has many mindfulness sites. On one site the leader gave a 5-day challenge. As usual, we were invited to do a short mindfulness practice (about 20 minutes) for five days. But he added a bonus practice. Every time we went through a door, we’re to bring to mind love. We could do this by sending love or good wishes to someone (including ourselves), or by thinking of a person we love, or by thinking of a loving act we witnessed. As with all mindfulness practices, we are invited to notice how we experience that feeling (of love) in our body. This specific mindfulness practice is called “cultivating positive states”. It’s based on the science that our in order to protect us from danger and keep us surviving, our nervous system developed a negativity bias. Basically it only pays attention to what it perceives as a threat. It’s constantly scanning for and “pre” perceiving threat. That’s why you might jump when you see a big branch on a forest path. The brain and nervous system perceives possible threat (a big snake) and wants you to react fast… weather or not it’s real.
This strategy is great for survival. But the downside is that the nervous system ignores most other experiences that are positive or neutral. In reality, if you pay attention closely, much of our experience is neutral, some good, and some really good. But the nervous system and brain are not interested unless the experience is threatening or possibly threatening. So it’s up to us to notice positive, neutral, and pleasant experiences and make an effort to register these experiences with the nervous system. This practice will actually deactivate the nervous system. The act of setting up a reminder (walking through a door) and focusing on love (a positive state) is a way to cultivate a more balanced system. It’s not Pollyanna. It is bringing attention to what else exists in addition to possible threat. Over time, at least in my experience, the nervous system can settle down and one can actually see the world in a more positive light.
My first day of the challenge, I “failed brilliantly”, as one of my teachers would say. I couldn’t remember to do it once except when I went to bed and realized I bombed. But you see, failed or not, my awareness was activated. The next morning I woke up sad and anxious having had a bad dream. This has been usual of late because of all the current events which are taking a toll. As I did my morning ritual of checking in with my body and mind, I remembered the challenge. I believe that this remembering is the nervous system wanting to feel better. My experience is that once on this path of caring for our nervous system (that’s what mindfulness does), it will work to help you succeed. It wants to deactivate.
The second day of the challenge is today. I’ve already remembered, at least half of the time, to notice loving kindness when I go through a door. (Does backing out of the garage count?) I’m noticing that I already feel less gloomy. My thoughts are lighter. I’m not as stuck in the “pre-perceived” threat of the future. I was able to notice the sunrise and the fog in the valley as I drove to work. All this is from just remembering to notice present moment experience. This is the gift of mindfulness. Allowing one to see the WHOLE picture. Not just the threats.
I’ll let you know how I feel by day five. Or better yet, try it yourself and notice how you feel. Stay aware my friends. <3
Are you the New Year’s resolution type? The dictionary defines resolution as, “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” For me, the “firm” part of that definition implies perfection. This could be because perfectionism has dominated my self talk for my whole life. I’m kind of a recovering perfectionist.
I like to look at New Year’s resolutions in terms of intentions. The dictionary defines intention as, “an aim or plan.” To me, setting an intention (an aim or a plan) seems like a softer, gentler way to guide myself on a new or possibly challenging path. It’s like making a deal with myself that I’m going in a certain direction, all the while acknowledging that things could go different from my plan. For me, intending to go in a certain direction, rather than having to, is less constricting therefore less stressful in general.
But I’m not saying that resolutions are a bad thing. For me, they bring out the perfectionist. For you t could be that a resolution is a stronger statement. It could make you more likely to stick to your goal.
As a mindfulness practitioner, it’s important to notice how your New Year’s statement feels to you.
Here’s a short mindfulness practice that may help:
- Write down your New Year’s goal in a resolution terms and in intention terms. For example, “my New Year’s resolution is to go for a walk three times a week”. Alternatively, “for this New Year I will set the intention to walk three times a week.”.
- Begin your practice with a few minutes of mindful breathing.
- After your body has settled a little, state and repeat the resolution to yourself. Just sit with that statement for 5 minutes or so, sensing how you feel.
- Return your awareness to your breath briefly.
- Now state to yourself the intention and sit with that for a bit.
- Again return to your breath briefly and end the practice.
Did you notice a difference in how each of them landed in your system? Did one feel better or worse? And in what way?
Which ever way this exercise goes, you may have some information that can support you in sticking with your New Year’s goal. Remember that awareness and compassion are how mindful practitioners try to meet all things. So as we embark on lofty goals this New Year, let’s make sure to meet them that way. Good luck!
Yesterday my husband, daughter and I were caught out doing holiday tasks way later than our kitty’s dinner time. But not to fear, when we came home we found out that our downstairs neighbor had taken it upon herself to feed him.
I’m going in a little different direction today but I think it’s relevant. My recent interactions with the medical profession lately have been very pleasant experiences. Actually they’ve been more than pleasant. I would say that they have been healing on a deeper level. These people were very kind, caring and sensitive. They did their best to treat me with dignity and respect. It’s clear that most people who choose the medical profession do it because it’s a calling. They clearly care about people and they want to help. To me that’s basically dedicating your life to Random Acts of Kindness.
Being out and about, there was lots of door holding, smiles of greetings, letting the other car go first, excuse mes, thank yous etc. It was another general vibe of kindness out there. Enjoy!
In October my husband and I took a little vacation driving to Las Vegas and back home along the coast. We stayed at various Airbnbs. Yesterday my husband got phone message that the cleaning lady in the Airbnb in Santa Barbara found a flash drive with his name and number on it. The host was wanting to send it back to us. It’s very nice of him to care enough 3 months later to return it.