The Hear and After

In my last post , Accepting the Journey,  I wrote about how I am grappling with the aging process and hearing loss of my mother; particularly since I feel like I may suffer the same fate, if not worse than my poor mom, as I have partial hearing loss in one of my ears and now my other ear has a dull pain in it, which the doctor told me was nerve damage.  But, I found it quite magical that when I was doing my work for the Mindfulness MOOC, and one of the exercises involved watching a TED video from Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better.  I found this video fascinating and timely. Although the video didn’t address hearing loss specifically, it got my mind wandering and wondering–does going deaf have to be inevitable as I age? As I researched ways to improve hearing, I was amazed that so many of the practices of mindfulness came up as the key exercises to “sound” health.

One of the ideas that Julian shared in his TED talk was to take notice and find joy in the sounds of the mundane. So this morning, before I got up, I just listened and tried to count as many sounds as I could in the room. One of those sounds was my husband’s breathing and I decided to folistening2cus in and listen to this sound–a sound that I have probably never really listened to (at least with any appreciation) for the last 11 years. And as I listened with curiosity, gratitude for Ryan began to well up in me. I found this strange and wonderful at the same time, not expecting to generate love and joy as a result of listening to the “mundane”. But what a wonderful way to wake up!

Naturally this simple exercise has now opened my ears, as well as my heart, and I feel infinitely grateful for the simplicity of it. As I ponder the serendipities that have arisen as a result of this Mindfulness MOOC, I feel encouraged to continue my commitment to this practice. I thought that this was only going to be a class about meditation, but it has turned into so much more. Finding beauty, experiencing gratitude and developing a state of awe are wonderful side effects which I wish for everyone to connect to.

 

Accepting the Journey

This past week we celebrated the 4th of July in Indiana. It was a wonderful time of celebration and patriotism–something that I haven’t experienced in a long time due to living overseas. It also was a time spent with family. And spending time with family in the context of celebration can challenge us because we work hard to avoid conflict and remain in a cheerful mood, even if we discover that there are painful realizations about our loved ones (or ourselves) and some members are going through difficult seasons in their lives. It can feel like forced happiness at times.accept-4 But then, that is the beauty of loving someone–cultivating joy through holding the space of what is possible for someone else and believing in the change that this loved one needs in order to create a shift in their life.

In this past week, I began to see the benefits of mindful communication, by generating more presence and engagement in these conversations with loved ones. Taking my practice “off the mat”, sort of speaking, and into my everyday life, allows me to develop greater empathy and compassion for my favorite Earth travelers–my family.

For me, my greatest struggle was accepting the aging process of my mother. older.jpgI found myself losing patience at first with her because she has become so elderly, embracing old age and submitting to decrepitude. I have come to witness that my reactions to her are a result of my own fear of aging and worry that I may become a burden to others.  My mother is losing her hearing, in particular, and I found myself shouting in order to communicate. At first, I just yelled and I am sure that my frustration came out as I “spoke” to her.  Then I decided that I needed to take a mindful breath as I engaged in conversation with her so that my communication could soften and be more gentle. Whether or not I like my mother becoming elderly is a moot point; she is my mother and I love her. (Perhaps one day my own daughter will have to face some of the challenges I have with my mom–what kind of role model am I being for her? Am I showing her how to be kind and respectful to aged persons?) So I just kept breathing, noticing my feelings and accepting my frustration, until it began to loosen its grip on my me.

Obviously mindful communication is not a one-off practice but a habit that must be cultivated patiently. My loved ones provide rich fodder for my practice, especially since I often engage with them in “default mode” in which I have attachment to my opinions of them and how I think their lives “ought to be”.  And of course, no one pushes  my buttons like them. Bless them! lol

Clearly the challenge now lies in whether I can stay committed to making mindfulness a habit in all areas of my life. And I wonder: Can I really become the person I wish to be?

As I understand that change begins with awareness and then with acceptance. Perhaps in a year’s time, my commitment will create a significant distance toward this goal. Meanwhile, I can be grateful for my loved ones and the struggles, as we journey on the Earth together.

 

Patient Heart

I really appreciated the distinctions and nuances of self-compassion during Dr. Craig and Dr. Richard recap of the “self” . Up until now, I never realized how connected heartfulness is to mindfulness. I always thought it was just about awareness, but now I know that connecting the heart with the mind is a big part of the practice. And there’s plenty of material in our lives in which we get to put knowledge into action. Every time we read or listen to the news, check our social media, and engage in conversations with those around happy daysus–every moment presents a challenge and an opportunity. And now that I know better, the question I have to ask myself: can I do better?

My heart says: Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. Keep practicing. Be patient.

My mind says: You can’t do this. You’ll always be impatient and judgemental. It’s your nature. You are hardwired to be critical. Give up, it’s useless.

I feel like trying to coax my mind into a friendship with my heart is like trying to convince a card carrying NRA member that America needs gun control laws–A frustrating endeavor that requires unemotional focus and patience. And I have to wonder, is it even possible? Can my thoughts shake hands with my heart and come into agreement? It seems to me that I have to develop my heart muscle. As I have chartered into a new dimension of my self-awareness through this mindfulness practice, it has become crystal clear that I need balance between my thoughts and emotions. Self-compassion seems absolutely relevant and necessary as I develop into the person I wish to be.
As an aside, I find it uncanny and appropriate how the Chinese character for patience involves the graph for heart, as well as recognizing the possible danger and struggle that can ensue when developing patience.

character for patience

May I be happy.

May I be well.

May I be peaceful.

May I be safe.

May I be me.

 

Can We Stop Gun Violence by Making Compassion a Habit?

If anyone has studied the Chaos Theory, then they have the understanding that nothing is random even though it is unpredictable. Coincidences are an illusion. Even one small act can have profound effects, such as the flap of a butterfly’s wing.

So this week was no surprise that my mindfulness practice mirrored the curriculum of our inherent oneness and the need to cultivate compassion. As my key take away, I reflected on remembering our common humanity–see the WE and not just the ME.

Due to the shooting in Orlando, FL in America, I was deeply moved, not just by the violence of the shooting, but by the reaction to the trauma. I wondered if people could experience greater compassion if they would feel that they need to cling to their guns to provide them a sense of power. Could embracing the notion that we are ONE despite our religions, our ethnic backgrounds, our political leanings, our level of wealth, etc.. and recalling that “we are our brother’s keeper” be a powerful enough reminder to curb our need to “protect” ourselves from one another and stop using the 2nd Amendment as a shield from our feeling of powerlessness? Now we could argue if owning a firearm is really a right or is it a privilege and hence the need for gun control, but that’s not the point. As I see it, it is the cause for such a horrific act of violence that needs to be argued–why would anyone feel a deep malicious desire to kill others? And I am not referring as so much the mental state of the perpetrator, but the underpinning lack of consciousness that seems be prevalent in these senseless crimes, in which there is a lack of connection to people, emotionally unplugged from the beauty, love and grace in life.  And it wasn’t just the shooter, because so many other hateful things have risen to the surface and have been brought to light as a justification for killing innocent people.

viktor-frankl-quote

So here is the flapping of the butterfly wing. Me, thousands of miles away, feeling the impact of this atrocious event. I reflected and wondered about my own acts of violence (not bullets, of course, but the things I say I do which create harm) in my life–toward myself and toward others.) I tried to take note of these moments, offering the wishes, “may you be happy, may you be well, may you be peaceful, may you be safe.” It helped me to cultivate gentleness towards myself and others. As I think about the importance of practice, I wonder if I was to really commit to this and create a habit in which my default mode was compassion, who I would be in 1 year from now? And I am curious–how long would I need to practice this in order to cultivate this hard wiring of compassion? Would keeping these people in mind (as well as Sandy Hook and so many other senseless mass shooting victims) who were shot down be enough to keep me focused?–Remembering that the world needs LOVE and UNDERSTANDING.

If I was to create this habit of compassion, is the risk that this practice might ripple out in the world to make a difference enough to solidify this worthy goal into the fabric of my daily life. Could you imagine what serendipity might ensue from a cascade of events that arose from a moment of compassion, understanding and love? In this way, there might be some sense made from the murder  For surely this too is the flapping of the butterfly wings as well.

May we be Happy.

May we be Well.

May we be Peace.

May we be Safe.

May we be WE.

Addicted to Distraction?

report cards keep calmIt’s report card time here for teachers and there’s nothing I’d rather do than NOT write and read those comments. So this week’s journey into distraction and procrastination was perfectly timed.

Did you know that we are wired for distraction?–that every time we get off task, our brain’s get a little dose of dopamine, which is a chemical on the reward pathway in the brain; furthermore, avoiding what needs to be done and letting ourselves wander off task could actually be addictive. So we are screwed, right? Not necessarily because through our directed attention, mindfulness works to subdue our emotions, bringing us back on task and renewing our focus.

 

Also, the attitude in which we pay attention can also determine our ability to stray or come back into focus. I found this video of distraction memeBrendon Burchard’s War and Peace model a reminder that when we want to change something in our life, we must commit to finding every possible solution and accepting that change takes time. I think this is really relevant as I consider that the practice of mindfulness is not just a one-off thing that perhaps I do in the morning or evening, but I need to find ways to seed this activity throughout my day in order for mindfulness to be hard-wired into my brain and become my mind’s default mode. An excellent suggestion was to take a moment to get in touch with the breath as we transition to a task that we may find challenging in order to avoid procrastination. This would help to give attention to what is relevant and necessary to complete a task, instead of allowing the mind to wander into worry or fear. Moreover, extending compassion to ourselves when we do stray off track, helps to decrease and de-activate the stress response that may accompany us when we are in avoidance and procrastination. Not only does it help to alleviate the negative emotion associated with the task, but has physiological benefits such as improved immunity and executive functioning of our brains.

So, I have to wonder, if I can be addicted to distraction, can I also become addicted to awareness? Is that possible?  I’m not sure, but I’m willing to dedicate myself to this challenge….one moment at a time. (:

 

 

 

Stickiness

Muhammed Ali said that “If you want to win, start within”.  He was such an inspirational man, but what made him such an icon was that he had the courage and commitment to choose his thoughts about himself.  The older I get, the more I grasp that in order to evolve, we must meet our thoughts and beliefs where they are, shake hands with them, and move on–they are not who we are, but where we are. We can may feel that we are “stuck” in this mindset, but it is possible to detach from them and choose new ones.

muhammad ali

I’ve heard it said before that to know and not do is to not know. And that’s true–how many times have we learned something, thought it was interesting, but then did not act any different as a result of it?

Since I’ve begun this deep dive into mindfulness, I’ve started to become curious what is my “mind-full” of? What kinds of thoughts am I thinking? Since I want to approach this as the observer, I have been viewing my thoughts in my meditation without judgement and elaboration, trying to engage my mind in the present, labelling my thoughts as a thought about the past or a thought about the future; and after noticing this, putting my attention on the breath, allowing  my mind to  wander but then gently bringing it back. I think I have been rather successful at this exercise because I was touched by the article about mindfulness stress reduction, and, in particular, the following quote:

“Since it is really about the present moment, the approach has to be spontaneous rather than thought out in advance. It has to be embodied. I just trust that, in a sense, my whole life has been a certain kind of preparation for this moment we call now, and that whatever emerges will be good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will be good enough for that moment. I have never found that that was not true.”- Jon Kabat-Zin

 So now I have been extending my practice beyond the course’s mediations. Since the beginning of this week’s work, I’ve put a sticky note on my laptop to help cue me into cultivating a stronger sense of presence and mindfulness. My note says:

  • Am I breathing? (this has helped me to check in with my breath),
  • Where’s the Magic? (this is to help me find some wonder and awe in my surroundings or experiences.), and
  • Who can I Cherish? (this is to help me connect with the people around me and experience appreciation for them).

I am hopeful that this practice is “sticky” and moves me to help me to create a greater habit of mindfulness outside of these meditative exercise and embody this practice in other areas of my life. I’d rather have my MIND-FULL of thoughts of joy and appreciation, rather than doubt or worry. I feel like this is also great mental training–like Muhammad Ali–cultivating a mind of a champion. In this way, I tap into the power of my being, the gifts that life has to offer me, and the joy of experiencing my loved ones and colleagues.

It’s hard to imagine how much of my life is shifting from noticing the little things. And it reminds me of another quote from The Greatest Man who ever lived: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

ali2

RIP, brother.

 

 

Awareness of Unawareness- Is this a Pathway to Achievment?

Dr. Craig and Dr. Richard made did a great job summarizing the week’s learning in this video.  All the discussions, articles and activities got me reflecting on how I focus my attention on tasks and use my thoughts to either generate affirming ideas or defeating ones.

After contemplating this week about how frequently I am “mindless”, allowing my attention to be diverted by my personal thoughts and the thoughts and opinions of ideas, I am wondering if all of this spent energy and time could have channeled into more productive things. And I’ve been also thinking about leaders who have been moving the masses toward a common goal. Clearly Nobel Peace prize winners must have had focused minds that helped them to overcome challenges and helped them to achieve great things.

CHG_muhammad_yunus1

Is my mind wandering into “what ifs” that are moving me forward in my life’s goal or are they causing me stagnation and distress? That’s the big question that has erupted as the result of paying attention to my breath and my body sensation. I never expected these deeper questions to develop but I am enjoying the process of unplugging from my thoughts, creating space between my opinions and “reality” and cultivating an openness for creativity and inspiration to emerge.

I am amazed by what has floated to the top, as ideas and thoughts have surfaced through this week’s journey into mindfulness. But as Dr. Craig explains that this is not a one-off practice but a commitment to developing “mindful moments” throughout our days.

That’s my goal for next week: can I raise my awareness?

 

 

 

Mindfulness: Week 1 of the Journey

I’m a bit MOOC fan. FREE EDUCATION!–are you kidding me?–I’m in!  So about a month ago I noticed the class offered by Monash University: MINDFULNESS FOR WELLBEING AND PEAK PERFORMANCE and it has finally started- Thankfully because the timing is perfect!

I’ve read books about meditation and watched video and movies on how mindfulness can reduce stress and reduce negative behavior. So I’m actually pretty surprised at how much I’m learning-not that I think I am an expert or anything-but I did think that I might get bored or uninterested early on with the “basics”.

So in Week 1, the instructors, Dr. Craig Hassad and Dr. Richard Chambers are giving an overview of what is Mindfulness. I think my greatest take away from the readings and video lectures is that multi-tasking is a myth. Doing multiple things at once does not make you more productive and in fact negatively impacts your memory and ability to complete task efficient and effectively. There is a blink in your attention in which your brain goes off line for a fraction of a second and you aren’t even aware of it. So you are actually “mindless” as you switch from one task or distraction to another, making completing tasks more stressful.

Research on the effects of mindfulness also indicate that people’s brains are actually impacted as their perspective changes, observing their thoughts as mental events rather than facts, and new areas are developed within the brain to help reduce stress and negative emotion.

I do have to say that just small changes such as turning off my notifications on my phone and laptop have made me feel more present and less stressed this week. I can really focus on a task that I am involved in. Also, it has helped me to remember that I can’t carry on a conversation or engage with people when I am on my devices or doing something else. I have been trying very hard to remain present and focus on people or completing the task at hand. I know this isn’t on the same level as a Buddhist monk, but I think if I keep making small steps towards my goal, I will eventually arrive at a place of greater consciousness and peace.