Archive | November, 2012

Monday Mindfulness: Worry thoughts!

26 Nov

We returned from the midwest on Friday evening.  What a grand trip it was!  We ate so much great food, laughed with my silly family and we relaxed.  No, I seriously relaxed.  I slept in, I went on long walks, I played with kids, I cooked and I knitted.  These are all such enjoyable activities for me!  The weather was warm, sunny and fabulous, but then on Thanksgiving night the temperatures drastically fell and it snowed.  My aunt has been letting me know that it has been COLD since we left too- we’re talking 10 degrees.  So I guess we were there at a good time.

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Cold morning on the lake, with snow!

I noticed something during our week there that tends to happen during my vacations: I worry.  More specifically, I worry that I’m running out of time and then become mildly upset about it, not enough to cry to people about it, but enough that it is distracting and upsetting.

Instead of going my usual (and not so helpful) route of telling myself I shouldn’t do something, I became curious about this travel anxiety.  Why am do I worry about the time I have left on this trip?  What would I want to happen if I could control the time?  I have been lucky to go on many fun trips and during all of them I experienced this.  Most profoundly was during our honeymoon to the Dominican Republic.  Not only was it warm and relaxing but we had left Seattle at a particularly gross time of year weather-wise and I had a very stressful job that I wasn’t excited to get back to.  Also, it was a lot of time spent in airplanes and sitting in airports for a relatively short trip so I couldn’t help but dread returning home.

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Pale lady in the D.R., eating chips and hanging with stray dogs, and no doubt WORRYING about things.

My worries about travel tend to be in phases.  First I have the beginning days- I feel like I can just kick back and enjoy as long as I still have a few full days left to do whatever I want.  During the middle days of the trip, I really try to live it up and remind myself to appreciate things.  Typically the first thing I think in the morning is How many days left?  Then there is the third and most distressing phase, usually occurring once there are only 2 days left.  I begin to really worry about the trip ending and I feel very sad.  This hit me profoundly while in Minnesota, a place I have always loved to visit and have often longed to live in (well, I lived there until I was 3, but that hardly counts).  I enjoy seeing my family and spending time with them.  I love all of the lakes and how people make friendly small talk everywhere you go.  So, this worry about the time left in my vacations?  I’ve been sitting with it my whole life, all the way back to those summer vacations in Minnesota.  I love to travel so that same worry just started to latched on to all trips.  Of course I don’t want the time to end, but it always does.

This all comes down to a simple thing- not being present.  Instead of being in the moment I am thinking about the future by dreading the flight home and worrying about what needs to happen when I arrive.  I am also thinking about the past by wondering if more could have been done to maximize my experience and sometimes even mentally beating myself up for not fully appreciating everything.  This simply is not how I wish to experience things.  I have worried about this so many times that it is a well-worn path in my brain and a pattern I slip into easily.  We all have worry patterns and this is just one of mine.  They can be hard to break!

During this trip I tried building a new pattern.  I tried noticing what was happening around me instead of letting my mind get the best of me.  This is a simple-sounding yet profound technique. Using my senses to ground me in the present helped so that my mind wasn’t allowed to go back to its habit of worrying.  Here are some tips to this kind of grounding:

  • Use your eyes to notice what is around you.  Simply take it in and observe.  Notice colors, textures, patterns, etc.
  • If you are eating something, really taste it, chew slowly and experience the flavors.
  • If you can smell something, do the same- really experience it!
  • Take deep breaths.  Count each inhale and count up to 10.  When you get to 10, start over.
  • If your mind wanders, just do it again.  And again.  And again.  This is all about practice- it takes a long time to break an old pattern and build a new one!
  • Notice what is happening with the body as well.  If the mind is going to worry thoughts then this could be a good time to get up and do something- wash dishes, play with a kiddo, go on a walk.  These activities, when done with full attention, can be grounding in themselves.

These grounding techniques can help when any kind of stress is trying to take you away from your present experience.  For me, I can really use the grounding while I am traveling so I don’t overly worry about the fact that my trip will eventually end.  I think I have more work to do on this, so I will need to plan some very fun vacations!

What do you worry about?  What do you do to prevent yourself from worrying about things you can’t change?  

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Thankful!

22 Nov

Today I am grateful for many things. It has been a long and exciting year.

I am thankful to have a career I find so exciting and meaningful.
I am thankful for our first home.
I am thankful for Radar dog, who spent last Thanksgiving in the hospital but has been in good health since.
I am thankful for Sasha dog, who has proven herself to be hardworking, loyal and intelligent. Those positive qualities have had a chance to shine thanks to our fabulous dog trainers, for whom I am also immensely thankful.
I am thankful for my husband- an honest, funny man and a darn good cook.
I am thankful for my family and the many experiences we have shared and that I hope we will continue to share.
I am thankful to live I’m Seattle, a vibrant and exciting city where I feel right at home.
I am thankful to live in Washington state, where every one now has the right to marry.
I am thankful for my yoga instructors. Although it seems rare that I attend a studio class, I take their lessons with me everywhere.
I am thankful to Bob the cat, who puts up with a lot but purrs anyway.
I am thankful for my friends near and far.
I am thankful for long walks.
Whatever I forgot, I’m thankful for that too!

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It may not look like much, but my aunt and I put a lot of planning into the horn of plenty!

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By the lake

21 Nov

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This is not a great photograph, but it was a great sight. Sunset on the lake, with a resident loon nearby. The docks have been pulled off the lake and on to shore, preparing for the winter freeze.

One of my favorite parts of visiting Minnesota is enjoying the beautiful lakes. This is the lake across the street from my aunt and uncle’s beautiful home (also where we’ve been staying). The weather has been unseasonably warm. I expected cold, blustery days during this trip but instead have enjoyed sunny, mild ones. I’m not complaining! I hope everyone is gearing up for a fabulous Thanksgiving. I’ll be cooking a beet salad and Brussel sprouts, but I’ll be eating much more than that, to be sure!

There’s always time for cake

20 Nov

We are currently in Minnesota visiting family. We had a quiet day yesterday. My husband and I went for a walk, ate breakfast and then saw a noon showing of Lincoln with my parents and my grandfather. Fabulous film, by the way. Afterwards I decided to make a cake, because well, I am on vacation so why not?

This torte recipe is from Vegetarian Times.  It uses a mashed sweet potato and almond flour instead of flour or butter. It is chocolatey, decadent and fluffy.  I’m not against flour and butter, but this cake is quite good because it is a chocolate bomb but not too heavy. Enjoy after dinner with decaf coffee or tea or enjoy the next day as a snack (I did both!)

Normally I’d write out the whole recipe and all. But honestly, I’m a bit lazy on my vacation plus I’m using my iPad only so the typing can get old. Lazy lazy snore. Anyway it is a great recipe and likely one I’ll use again and tinker with in the future.

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Yummy!

Monday Mindfulness: Act like a child

19 Nov

Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is. -Yoda

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year. Buy some presents, get your work done, be nice to your family, don’t eat too much, don’t get snippy… Yeah so it can be pretty stressful. I often find that I’m lost without structure and routine and much like a child, that can leave me listless and grumpy. Although the holidays may mean time off and/or traveling, that doesn’t mean that all is lost.

Children are inspirations for mindfulness: they live in the present moment, they use their senses to experience things fully and they are rarely bogged down with judgements or stressed out about possible future events. We can cultivate mindfulness by taking a cue from the kids. So try to act like a child! Don’t have tantrums like your toddler companion, but approach the world with wonder and joy. And if you do have a tantrum, well then just wipe your tears and move on, just like the little ones do.

Here’s some mindfulness tips, inspired by the kiddos:

-Stick to a routine. I recently attended a lecture about the intersections of mental health and physical health, given by a naturopathic doctor. She frequently returned to the theme of treating your body like a three year old: eat at the same times, eat regularly, go to sleep and wake up at the same time. I find that I tend to feel best when I snack or have a meal every 3 hours or so, just like a toddler. Ditto with the regular sleep. (as I write this, I’m 2 time zones away from Seattle and still a bit disoriented.)
-Do one thing at a time. This is a common mindfulness practice and the little tykes approach this with natural ease. You won’t see a three year old juggling a sandwich, some Legos and a conversation about puppies simultaneously, so why try to eat breakfast, check email and catch up with a loved one all at the same time? Pick an activity and just do that one thing. I often notice a pull to distract myself during these moments, for example when my brain yearns to read the label on the yogurt container while I’m eating breakfast. Just notice such temptations but try not to indulge them. Then again, if you do all the sudden notice you’re doing several things at once, just get back to your original activity. There’s no cause for harsh judgement here. So if you’re eating- just eat! Walking? Just walk.
-Use your senses. Kids really take things in. Adults seem to rarely notice small changes like a haircut or a rearranged room. But kids? Oh, they notice things. They will tell you what happened last week and they will certainly notice if there’s a weird smell somewhere. They don’t avoid sensory information, or become so distracted by social conventions. Notice what things taste like, how they smell and how they look. Whatever you are doing, experience it fully and really take it in.
-Move around. Parents tend to take their kids out and about at least once per day (or so I have observed). They go on a walk, to the park or enjoy time walking around while tackling errands. I do the same with my dogs. It just isn’t right to not take them out, so why am I any different than the small children or the dogs? Even if the weather isn’t great it can be a nice break to get outside and walk around. A short walk can be a great way to simply get some fresh air and to get a bit of exercise. Lately I’ve been taking morning walks shortly after waking and I’ve noticed a general boost in energy as a result!
-Be silly! Laugh, smile and enjoy. Don’t be so serious! We all feel better when we laugh. Even if you don’t feel happy, at least try it- chances are that putting a positive face on will help to shift your mood, even just a bit. I’m visiting relatives and my cousin stopped by with her one year old tonight. We played an intense game of peekaboo and at one moment, I became so enthralled with the game I hid behind paper are goofily stared at her- she laughed so hard! Let me tell you that I was acting like a silly fool, but my heart just about skipped a beat while sharing that silly laughter.

What else can you do to cultivate the curious and present-focused mind of a child?

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Relax

16 Nov

Warm cuddles, close contact.

Busy busy, but in a good way.  Working, organizing, moving things around, cooking in the kitchen and preparing for an upcoming trip.  The pets are getting lots of walks, pets and cuddles.

Happy

14 Nov

Image posted on Facebook by Conscious Body Pilates Seattle.

A primary goal of both psychotherapy and mindfulness practices is to find meaning in life, which some might say is feeling HAPPY.  Interestingly, the more we strive for typical methods of securing happiness, such as pursuing wealth and power, the more we might struggle to find it.  Sometimes happiness comes about in unexpected ways such as being out of your comfort zone and taking risks, or in finding profound meaning from very painful circumstances such as trauma.  As Joseph Campbell said “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.  Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Today I watched the 2011 documentary “Happy” which explores the wealth of scientific research into happiness.

The film delves into Positive Psychology research and introduces its viewers to numerous concepts related to happiness, quickly moving from topics such as laughter, bullying, community and religion.  The film rapidly moves all over the world- from Louisiana to India, to Bhutan and to Japan.  It is a quick ride with a lot of happy information thrown at you, but overall it is interesting and fun as well as inspiring.

Some highlights of the movie include:

  • Happiness is partially related to our genetics and only 10% influenced by things like money and possessions.  However, research has shown that 40% of happiness is influenced by what we choose to do with ourselves as far as activities, thoughts and practices.  The movie does mention the importance of basic needs being met (think basic shelter and food) in order to pursue happiness.
  • Activities such as exercise (especially “novel exercise”, which the movie shows as people running in gorilla suits) increases the production of dopamine which makes people HAPPY.  (This must be why exercise is often regarded as the best anti-depressant.)
  • Positive Psychology research claims that close family and community support provides more happiness in life than material wealth ever will.  Makes a lot of sense.
  • Compassion meditation is shown to boost brain functioning and is found to increase happiness, even after just a little bit of practicing it.
  • Counting your blessings  is a way to stay focused on good fortune and can boost happiness.  (Shout out to all of those on Facebook currently posting about the gratefulness for the entire month of November!)
  • Research has shown that random acts of kindness is a huge way to boost overall feelings of well-being and happiness.

So overall, it is a compilation of information many of us may already be familiar with.  The message is clear though: Happiness is not some elusive thing you’ll find when you save enough money to get some new car or house.  It is also not something you simply find and have forever- it is a practice and a lifestyle.  Happiness is found in the everyday- cooking and enjoying meals with friends, learning to surf, taking time to walk outside and so on.  Happiness is also found by being part of something bigger than yourself, perhaps by giving back to the world.   The more you do those things, the more you’ll tap into happiness.

The ending narration of the movie states: “The formula for happiness is not the same for everyone.  The good news is that the things we love to do are the building blocks of a happy life: play, having new experiences, friends and family, doing things that are meaningful, appreciating what we have…these are the things that make us happy, and they’re free.  And with happiness, the more you have, the more everyone has.”

So what will you do today to find happiness?  

Ren & Stimpy- experts on happiness? Image from http://www.fanpop.com