Things Life Taught Me

I’ve always been optimistic about aging. Although I was never a kid who was dying to be 10 when they were 9 years old or the 19-year old that was desperate to be 21 so I could get into bars, getting older was never something I longed for nor dreaded.  I distinctly remember a time when one of my friends had a meltdown because he was turning 28 and was nearing the 30-year-old mark, which seemed like middle age back then. That seriously makes me laugh out loud when thinking back to that moment.

Recently I saw this article: 30 things you should know before 30 and I equally guffawed aloud. Maybe 30-year-olds these days are this savvy but I swear I learned most of this stuff just last year. (kidding, sort of).  I’ve yet to have a teacher or mentor in my life who has impressed upon these lessons. It doesn’t mean that people haven’t influenced my thinking but most of what I know if from my own experience, which has been my best teacher. There are no college courses like the school of hard knocks. With that in mind, I’d like to add to this list a few quintessential lessons that I have learned that shapes so much of my thinking today.

The 10 Ten Things You Should Know When By 40.

  1. Quit the “Can’t”: With so much research done on neural plasticity and intelligence, there is literally nothing that we “can’t” do. Wgrowth-mindset.027e may not be able to do it this moment, but if we literally put our mind to it, we can become good at something at a minimum of 20 hours and an expert at it within 5 years. The first step is to develop a growth mindset and reframing failure. You can unravel long seated habits and create new skills when you omit this sort of language and thinking in your life. Period. Here’s an example: I became an “expert” at non-smoking because I practiced being a non-smoker. If I made a “mistake” and puffed on a cigarette, I wasn’t harsh on myself but admitted that I am learning a new habit of non-smoking and got back to trying my best. Over time I got momentum with longer times of non-smoking and eventually I no longer identified with this addiction. Now I the only thing I “can’t” believe is that I thought breaking this addiction was hard. It’s not when you embrace the right mindset.
  2. Travel Opens Your Mind: People are a product of their culture + experience. These 2 things create the majority of their beliefs. And our beliefs create the filter in which we see the world. If their culture is rigid and experience is limited, then their problem-solving skills are few and they often feel victimized by the world. Travel exposes people to new ideas and gains a variety of life experience, they can break out of their culture’s restricted perspectives and be more resilient and creative.
  3. Anger Must be Fleeting: My friend Shannon actually taught me this. She experienced a really big betrayal in her life but she explained to me that she could only be angry and rant about it for 3 days. After those 3 days, she no longer permitted this concern to dominate her thoughts or conversation. She set time limits to her emotional investment in the “wrongs” in her life. I loved that and have used that experience in my own life. I actually think 3 days is too generous, but that’s because I have practiced this enough times. I try to let go of my irritation within 24 hours. There are 2 thoughts that usually release me from the grips anger: compassion for others (“If they knew better, they’d do better. They aren’t evil, they just don’t have all the facts/skills”) and compassion for myself (“You made an error of judgement, but now you know. Now that you know better, you can do better”). If I am in a red hot rage, then I do eft/tapping on my meridians points. It looks weird (unless you live in China–you see this sort of thing all the time) but it really helps to diminish negative emotion. Then when I am cooled off a bit more, I make a list of all the things I appreciate about this person or myself. This really helps to reframe the emotion attached to the person.
  4. Life Is A Yoga Tree Pose: Have you ever tried to balance one leg at a time? Sometimes you can stand on one leg for a long time before switching to the other. Other times, you keep toppling over. This is how life goes. Sometimes we can maintain a “posture” for a long time, which I often equate with emotion, but eventually, we have to switch legs. So goes life. Sometimes life is full of absolute joy and sometimes it is shit. But whatever it is, these emotions and situations will pass; and I can always choose to stand on my other “foot” if I want to change my perspective.
  5. Give to Get: True relationships are built on trust and support.  Your generosity is proportional to the generosity you experience. It’s not that you only do things quid pro quo but what you practice in abundance (patience, appreciation, kindness) is tantamount to your experience.
  6. Ask, Not Assume: Misunderstandings happen. Best to ask questions rather than assume someone is doing you wrong intentionally. But don’t be patronizing–be genuinely curious. I gain a lot of insight into their perspective when I ask thoughtful questions and it improves my relationship overall. I do this all the time with my daughter and I can’t tell you how much this has helped me of be a better parent.
  7. Shut Up and Sit Down: Meditate Daily. Your brain and body will thank you. The amount of time isn’t as important as the consistency of the practice.
  8. Three’ss the Charm: 3 is the magic number so they say. Take a hint. When I hear something 3 times, I know it’s something that the universe is telling me to pay attention to and I do.
  9. It’s All Good: Our life’s tradegy is often our best blessing. Lately I was discussing my father’s death and how it took a toll on my adolescence but how I no longer look back with grief and longing. Although I wish he could have been a part of my adult life, I know that my life is for the better as a result of his loss. That trauma in my life helped cultivate so many important life skills that I might not have developed if it hadn’t have happened. There are No Victims, only people who give away power to circumstances. You can make diamonds out of life’s pressure if you choose to do so.
  10. Don’t Wait For The Lesson: If you know what you are doing is not helpful in pursuing the type of dreams you have or develops you into the person you want to become, then STOP it! Don’t wait until there is some drama that you have to contend with. Be smart in advance and make changes that will produce the outcome you want. Right. Now.

What am I missing? What would you add to this list?

 

Awareful

That’s not even a word, so my spell-checker tells me. And it doesn’t even have any suggested alternatives but I swear it’s real. I’m going to attempt to define it through this post.

Have you ever heard about the Dhamma Brothers?  Years ago, I watched the documentary about these high-security prisoners that were taught Vipassana meditation and how much it changed them, inside and out. It’s profound, but you can hear about its synopsis in the TEDx talk below.

 

I think what I love most about this story is that they learned to not be victims anymore, to take personal responsibility for their lives (past and present), and recognize that they have a choice. Even in their environment of violence and despair, they can take a moment to reflect on how they feel, what thoughts they are having and the quality of their relationships. We all have that opportunity–we all have that choice, to recognize how our actions, words, and deeds can impact, not only ourselves but others. This is how I am going to define this word: AWAREFUL

I believe that most of us going through life thinking that we are victims of circumstance-someone did something and now we all are paying the price for what THEY did to US. Maybe it’s the politicians or the bankers or the teachers or the lawyers or our neighbors or our families. It doesn’t matter who you think did what when you blame another, you give away your inherent freedom of personal choice. Even in the most oppressive environments, one has the power to choose. Choose what? Your attitude!

Your attitude is the sum of your beliefs about life and your place in “the big picture”. Do you feel powerful or powerless? Do you feel connected or disconnected to others around you? Do you feel well being or sickness? Do you feel happy or discontent? However you feel, it makes a difference in your behavior and affects the “vibe” you bring wherever you go.

You don’t have to convince me about that–I teach 3-5 year olds! They are sponges and act like mirrors. I know that I have to get my attitude in order if I am to teach them or they get completely nutty. I may jest that “it must be a full moon or something” but I know in my heart that they are just responding to what I am projecting upon them through my energy, words, and reactions to them. They provide excellent personal data, I tell you what!

With that in mind, being awareful is a chronic habit timg_3278hat I have been developing. Throughout the day, I have these reminders on my phone that go off, suggesting that I take a moment to breathe and get in touch with my body or ask me how do I want to feel? I want to develop my focus so that I can be more mindful in my actions. It is my intention to develop proper attention. And some days I’m awesome at it, and other days…..um… I could improve. lol  But I know, I always have a choice, and if I don’t choose to be mindful, then it’s MY choice–no one else is in control of me. And me taking personal responsibility for that choice? –well, that’s a work in progress! But at least I am aware that it’s a choice of mine to make.

Light and Air

It’s winter time here in Wuxi, which can be incredibly dreary.  I have to remind myself that though the sun may seem obscured by the clouds, even though I do not see it, I know the sun is still radiating its light and heat. And I often rely on this example as a metaphor for my life: there are moments in one’s life in which everything seems bright and going smoothly, and then there are other times that are clouded, disorientating and confusing.  I often use “this too shall pass” as my mantra to remember how temporary and fleeting the joys and the struggles are in life. My breath also exemplifies this quote from the bible–as it is natural that we move in and out of experiences.

With that in mind, I’ve been contemplating this yoga teaching lately:

The more shallow your breath, the more shallow your nerves. And the more shallow your nerves, the more shallow your thoughts. The more shallow your thoughts, the more shallow your whole life is. So consequentially, the deeper your breath, the deeper your nerves, the stronger your nervous system, the deeper your thoughts and your experience of your life. -Guru Jagat-

It’s an interesting argument for meditation, that is for sure, but what has drawn me into reflection is the ability to embrace the moment and see its opportunity for our growth–really taking a letgomoment to look at my thoughts, are they shallow and dim, full of doubt and gloom? Or are they deep and engaged in possibility, seeing the available good that can come from obstacles and opportunities? Can I penetrate through perception to see the truth?

And then, after “breathing it all in”, having the power to let it go and “breath it out”. Observing my thoughts in this way could provide the space to let new ideas emerge. If I attach to what is “wrong” or “right” about a situation, then this too clouds my judgment, sort of speaking, because I have a level of expectation that muddles my thinking; and it also creates more highs and lows in my emotional state. As I aim to be content, no matter what, I think balancing my emotions helps me to see situations more clearly and act in more conscious ways. Of course, this is a work in progress, one that is never done. And so I keep breathing, in and out.

 

 

 

 

Life in Clouds

fullsizerender-30As I peered out my window this morning, this was my view: a dense mist permeating. Although we have been experiencing the effects of Typhoon Nida, it is not unusual to have misty days like this. It not as heavy as fog, but you feel like you are walking in clouds.

However, as I studied the neighborhood, wondering if I would venture out today, it hit me–this awareness that I have been feeling like clouds. I don’t know how to really describe this, because it’s something that you can’t put your finger on, something that is obscure and unsettling.

And because of this, it has been like trying to coax a 2 year old child to leave a playground to get myself to meditate. I have to grab myself by the arm and force myself to sit my butt down to meditate. And this feeling doesn’t want to budge.

Appreciating that life if full of ebbs and flows, I recognize that this too shall pass. But now that I am aware of this feeling, it is a bit of relief. Now I can find a strategy-cloud-maybe not to make it go away in an instant but a way in which I can be okay with this not okay feeling. To observe this storm inside and to not judge it as good or bad, just a Now.

Maybe my focused breath can talk reason with my inner 2 year old and I get curious about where and how this cloudiness saturates my thoughts. Who knows, maybe life in clouds will prove to be an important part of my personal and spiritual growth?

So perhaps there is a rainbow in this experience.

Keep breathing.

Habit Forming

There’s nothing more motivational than developing positive momentum. Since there are areas of my life that I wish to improve,  I read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  This book really inspired me to think about keystone habits and how I might cultivate them. Since then, I’ve really been researching ways that I might be more successful at converting a new habit into something that becomes second nature. Obviously my practice of mindfulness is a habit that I am working on. Habits-101-Poster

With that in mind, I found a couple of things that have really inspired me and kept me on track:

  • The wisdom shared by Brian Johnson in his video: Habits 101.
  • And this tracker: Way of Life app ( I only use the free version because 3 habits seem like plenty of cultivate at a time.)

These two things have really helped me to sculpt my intention to develop positive habits like meditation, and have also given me a way to celebrate my success as I endeavor to become the best me that I can be. I hope these tools serve you as well.

Keep breathing!

Big IFs

Have you ever read the poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling?

If you can keep your head, while others around you are losing theirs…..If you can wait and not be tired of waiting….If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same….

This poem comes to mind as I reflect on my practice–not just when I have my eyes closed, meditating, but also when I am engaged in my life’s daily events. It’s really those times “off the mat” (to steal a yoga phrase) that I know mindfulness is truly being cultivated. Indeed, it is how I approach those those difficult moments that I am able to recognize that my effort is worthwhile.

I have to celebrate the process, the journey, and the struggle of mediation.  Although noticing that my mind is wandering may seem like a failure at first, however, over time, it is becoming the evidence and validation that my practice of mindfulness is paying off. This awareness is the essence of a mindful moment.

What surprises me is the development outside of my meditation- not just the awareness of the emotion that I am experiencing but also theHeart-Rate-Variability the shift in my perception. I can look at challenging people and situations and find something within these experiences to have gratitude for. It’s like these emotionally gritty experiences are turning dirt into pearls of wisdom for me. Of course, to become attached to this transformation seems to contradict the point of mindfulness as well. However treating my successes and failures with the same openness is something I can strive towards. Though cultivating  mindfulness as my preset default mode seems to be a BIG If, but nevertheless, its pursuit is worthy of my effort.