Tonglen: To Let Go and To Accept

I’ve been listening to the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Pema is an American Tibetan Buddhist and has written and taught extensively. She speaks of Tonglen, a foreign concept to me as I listened to the book. I decided to investigate further. As defined by Dhaval Patel for Zenful spirit, “Tonglen is a Tibetan word that is contrived of two terms tong, which means to let go and len, which means to accept. So Tonglen means To Let Go and To Accept.

milada-vigerova-45368-unsplash

As Pema writes in Lion’s Roar magazine, “Pema Chödrön teaches us sending and taking an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion. With each in-breath, we take in others’ pain. With each out-breath, we send them relief.” I practice meditation every day and have used the Loving Kindness meditation frequently, but this awakening of compassion was a new concept to me and I found it very intriguing. It is one thing to wish others love and kindness; it is quite another to take on their suffering and send relief. It’s so easy to steer clear of pain and suffering to keep ourselves safe.

Here is what I learned about Tonglen:

Be imperfect

I was talking about meditation with my daughter a few weeks ago and she stated that she wasn’t any good at it because she kept thinking. I’ve been meditating for over seven years and I still continue to have thoughts. It’s easy to think: “Whelp…I had a thought so I guess this isn’t working.” My current mediation from the Art of Living is about of series of breathing techniques. While I think about my breath, I still have thoughts. I am not perfect. You won’t be perfect. Being perfect is not the point. My first attempts at Tonglen were imperfect. That’s OK. Embrace imperfection.

Be open and still

The first step to Tonglen is to be still and open. I envision coming out of my head and the whirlwind of thoughts going out and back into my body. Take a few deep breaths. Relax your shoulders and focus on your big toe or on opening your heart.

Close your eyes

Bring someone into mind who is suffering. Many suggest focusing on someone close who you know is suffering. If your dog is lame, or your daughter is being bullied, or your parent is hospitalized, these are assessable. I think of this as low hanging fruit and easier to identify with. In other words, don’t bring to mind a large event like an earthquake, war, or refugees during your first few attempts. In addition, don’t focus on your arch enemy or ex-girlfriend on your first few attempts either. Bring to mind someone you can identify with and want the best for. As Dhaval wrote, “Imagine someone that you want to help. Perhaps it is a friend or a loved one. Focus intently on this person and on their struggle.”

Breathe in

As Pema writes, “Work with texture. Breathe in feelings of heat, darkness, and heaviness—a sense of claustrophobia.” I imagine colors of red and black. Pema says, “Breathe in completely, taking in negative energy through all the pores of your body.” This visually is very powerful for me. Taking the energy through the pores of your entire body illustrates complete openness and compassion for me. As Dhaval writes, “As you do focus on the heaviness of their negative energy and of the things that ail them, imagine yourself breathing in their condition or suffering. As you do this, picture that you are breathing in their pain so you remove it from their bodies, giving them room for comfort, healing and positivity.” I imagine it as taking someone’s burden so that they can be free. I visualized a friend who recently gave up alcohol. I imagined taking in the anxiety and burden of finding that next drink. I swallowed the poison so that she could be free. It’s a powerful experience to embrace the suffering instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.

Breathe out

As Dhaval writes, “As you breathe out, breathe happiness and peace out into the world. Think about what you believe would bring them comfort or joy. Focus on that and breathe it out into the world. Imagine that breath traveling to those you want to help and having it fill that empty space with what they need.” I find that the colors of blue and purple work best for me. I imagine filling up the hearts and minds of those suffering with a fog of blue and purple. I also imagine them being lifted up. Perhaps even held up with renewed strength and love. Pema espouses, “Breathe out feelings of coolness, brightness, and light—a sense of freshness.” Breathe out sunshine and unicorns. Breathe out hope and happiness. With my newly sober friend, I imagine freedom, lightness, and courage. This is the letting go.

Repeat and expand

I meditate for 20 minutes. That is lot of suffering and happiness. Dhaval wrote, “Continue this practice of breathing in pain and breathing out peace over and over again until your session is over. Remember, this doesn’t just apply to others either. If you are in pain, you can breathe in and out your own suffering.” When I focus on my own pain or suffering, I can incorporate others in similar pain. I have had some knee pain recently and I breathe in for others suffering physical pain. As Pema says, “Make it bigger than just that one person. You can do Tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies—those who hurt you or hurt others.” Start small and close and then expand out as you practice.

Pema wrote, “Tonglen can extend infinitely. As you do the practice, your compassion naturally expands over time, and so does your realization that things are not as solid as you thought, which is a glimpse of emptiness.” In practicing this over the last week, I feel a sense of oneness and belonging. I don’t have to tell someone that I took on their suffering last Friday morning. I just know that I feel like I relieved someone else’s suffering and gifted them happiness back. It feels powerfully unselfish and loving. Whose suffering could you let go and accept?

Being Present

It’s easy to run through your day just skimming the surface. I’d bet you were on auto pilot on your last drive to work or home. You don’t remember that annoying person driving too slow in front of you or that family riding their bikes. It’s easy to blame technology and its incessant dopamine hits calling your attention back to social media and email notifications, so you can acknowledge that jerk at work or that annoying comment from a coworker on your Instagram post. We get wrapped up in our heads instead of actually being present.

40573093_296239494510307_3875796629852258304_n
Kayaking on Lake Puiray

There is the novelty of travel and trying to get to the next spot to take the iconic picture. To check another item off the bucket list. To rush and hurry and strive and push onto the next thing. As you even read this, I wonder if you’re simply skimming this sentence (as I tend to do) and rush onto the bullets to see what you might glean (quickly) from this post.

Here are the benefits of being present:

Unexpected. One of the most beautiful moments I had on my trip to Peru a few months back was on Lake Piuray. I knew the plan was to kayak somewhere but besides that, I didn’t know much else. Well, it ended up being a highlight of the trip. We launched from a beach on a spectacular lake near Chinchero, Peru. Outside of a few farms and glacial mountains surrounding the lake, it was mostly uninhabited. The cranes, ibises, and ducks flew by and a clear blue sky bathed us in sunshine. We paddled peacefully near the reeds by the bank. I remember thinking to take it all in for just two beats longer. This is what life is all about; this hour or so of beauty, peace and tranquility. It may have been unexpected, but it was a gift I wouldn’t soon forget.

Ordinary. I have taken a short one mile walk in my neighborhood probably a thousand times. I usually have a set of earbuds in and am listening to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. I rarely “pay attention” to my surroundings. When I first did this walk (and almost every subsequent one) with my boyfriend Roy, he would stop dead in his tracks to watch the Purple Martins flying. I had never noticed them. Or their nest. Or the Ospreys. Or the Swifts. Now I do. I try not to skim through my day but rather observe the ordinary that I was oblivious to before. Be present to the ordinary.

Stop. I typically rush through my day. I try and check off all that I want to accomplish. Outside of meditating every morning, the rest of my day can seem like a long list of duties and appointments that I am checking off. A few weeks ago, I was hiking a trail next to the Eno River with Roy. He, of course, stopped next to the river for a few moments. He called me over. I stopped and looked as he pointed out the small crappies swimming in the river below the surface, only visible with polarized sunglasses. My typical behavior would be to move on forward down the trail and not stop. It’s in those moments of stopping that magic is revealed. The tiny fish were swimming as Roy threw in a piece of bark that they immediately swam for. Stop and enjoy the moment.

The feels. This has been a revelation over my past year of sobriety. When I stopped numbing out with food and alcohol, I actually felt things. I know that sounds crazy. It wasn’t like I didn’t have feelings before I quit numbing out, but when I was actually present for the feelings, I actually experienced them. I believe that there is an all or nothing view of feelings. Either we are raging with anger or stoically passing through drama unaffected (typically with a little help of some vice of choice). So, cry when you need to; it’s good for you anyway. Feel deceit, anger, regret, or resentment. Feel the feels. It makes you really present in your experience.

Meditation. I’m not sure how long I have been meditating (I’m guessing ten years) but it’s been over a year since I started practicing Sudarshan Kriya from the Art of Living. I will not pretend that I don’t have thoughts or extraneous worries as I meditate for twenty minutes in the morning. Stuff crops up. But it’s OK. This is not about turning off your thoughts. It’s about focusing on the breath and letting thoughts go as they crop up. It’s not about perfection. It makes me present, out of my head, and back into my body.

Whether today is a run of the mill day with a long list of to-dos, or you are on your dream vacation, don’t rush through: take a breath and feel the moment. Be here now. In this moment, regardless…Be Here Now. Each moment has its magic. Are you ready to be present?

The Anatomy of a Silence Retreat

I posted last week about a Silence Retreat I went to over Labor Day Weekend. It sparked a lot of feedback and some faithful readers want to know more! I admit, I was a bit surprised. So this, is that more. To start off, when I arrived at the retreat, I had an expectation that everyone there, including all the employees and other guests, would be silent. I was anticipating as I drove up that I would need to zip my lip. And I also assumed we would all communicate via sign language and gestures going forward. Not so. There were other events and participants going on. The “silence” portion didn’t start for another 36 hours and the employees of the center were active, communicating with participants like anyone else would on the job.

21270891_10155607494848688_3857385553531978755_n

The silence itself focused on the participant not communicating versus everyone else not communicating. When I think of silence, I think of a church on a weekday where there is little if any noise and folks kneeling to pray. Very hushed and quiet. In reality, the silence is not about outside or even participatory communication; it’s all about silencing your mind through meditation and relaxation. The silence is internal and that silence can be a bit  allusive to start. Kind of like trying to hold onto Jell-O through finger tips.

 

So, this is the anatomy of a Silence Retreat:

 

  • Reception. Upon arrival, I was expecting the aura of a monastery combined with pantomime. Not so. I parked and followed the signs to the reception desk. The gentleman greeting me was quite friendly and gregarious. I was taken aback, as I figured silence was from the get go. He immediately established which program I was with; so this was my first sign that there was more than just us Silencers here at the retreat center. And, since they didn’t duct tape my mouth or tell me to shush the silence portion might start as the event kicked off after dinner. I was really surprised when he gave me not one but two Wifi codes, “You know; for two devices.” I didn’t bother bringing more than my trusty smart phone but I didn’t imagine I would be streaming Netflix House of Cards on a silence retreat. No silent reception. Who knew?

 

  • Accommodations.  Essentially my room had three single beds, a desk and a bathroom. I was a little apprehensive that, even though I had asked for a private room, someone might show up for one of the bunks. I didn’t feel like sharing my space with anyone. I had imagined myself being in the fetal position in the middle of the night, sucking my thumb and crying for my mommy. Ok. Well that didn’t happen and neither did any roommates pop up as well. In fact, I think all of us silencers were in the same far flung building; they wanted us to be silent together instead of mixed in with all the folks who weren’t silent and more likely to be playing Metallica after midnight. There were property rules that I be quiet after 10pm but my impression was that all the Silencers were in the same building.

 

  • Food.  The thing I did once I dropped my bag off, made my bed – sheets and blankets provided – make your own bed; I headed to the dining hall. I was still thinking that at some point someone was going to tell me to not talk. Nope. I knew the menu was vegetarian but almost all of food was gluten free and vegan. This meant no scrambled eggs, cheese or fresh baked bread. In addition, our instructor, Mona, told us that during the retreat, they were cooking lighter food so that it was easier to meditate. I’m not sure if it was vegan menu, buffet style service or that my enlightened mind wasn’t up for much food, but I barely ate at meals. I was rarely hungry. Or perhaps my carnivore mind knew to be on strike.

 

  • Monkey brain.  I didn’t realize this at the time but since returning, I have read that the pain and anguish I was feeling in the first twenty-four hours of silence was my monkey brain. Imagine all your thoughts flying through your head like a pack of orangutans jumping from vine to vine to vine. Your thoughts start going haywire with no distractions such as conversations, Facebook notifications or sitting for hours at a time. Literally, I thought I was going “bananas”…how appropriate, right? Apparently, it takes about twenty four hours of silence for those orangutans to settle down. And once they do? It’s beautiful.

 

  • Nature.  This retreat center is on the top of a mountain in western North Carolina. Once my mind was silent and the monkeys were finally relaxed and quiet; I was able to focus in on the spectacular scenery. The smallest of details came into focus as I noticed butterflies, the breeze through the trees, the stones on the ground, the path through the forest. Each intimate detail; I was enthralled with it all. Turning off all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, let me wake up my senses to what was going on around me. There was so much going on around me that I normally would never have paid attention to. It was mesmerizing.

 

  • Inward.  Introspection is the end result of two and half days of silence. THIS is the ULTIMATE prize – it is like shining a light inside yourself, after the monkeys have calmed down, and being able to be with yourself and truly appreciate just being in the present moment. No agenda. No to-do list. No planning. No rumination. Just to be. I honestly think that the last time I was in the present moment with myself was when I was four years old and my mother would force me to take a nap I was alone in my bedroom with no distractions but my own present moment. It’s incredibly powerful to be with yourself. Taking a break from all the helter-skelter of everyday life is an enormous gift. It’s almost like unplugging yourself and letting the batteries run dry only in order to be completely rejuvenated. Hollow and empty but profoundly peaceful and enriching.

I highly recommend a silent retreat, especially if you are facing a major life change like retiring, changing jobs or leaving a relationship. There is deep clarity once all the distractions are gone and the monkeys have gone to bed.

7 Tenets of The Happiness Program

Your coworker hasn’t responded to your proposal email in the last five minutes, so you assume they don’t like the idea. Your son doesn’t answer his phone, so you assume he’s in the hospital. You don’t hear back from the doctor, so you’ve decided it must be catastrophic. This is the negative bent of your brain looking for the worst-case scenario.

I have recently found the antidote for what people refer to as your “lizard” or “monkey” brain. With all of the recent turmoil in my life, I decided to attend The Happiness Program. It has changed my outlook on life in many ways. Even though there are still a thousand loose ends and unanswered emails on moving back into my house post-hurricane, I am in a state of equilibrium and peace.

brandon-morgan-286192

The heart of the program is learning a meditation with very prescribed breathing techniques and timing. I can’t describe it here, and I’m not qualified to teach it, but I can give you the remaining tenets of the program, which are based on the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, taught worldwide at The Art of Living.  I wrote about 5 of the tenets in my previous post, which you can read here.

Sri Sri’s important things to always remember:

  • Accept people and situations as they are.  I truly believe that everyone is a closeted control freak. The constant strive for control is exhausting. In an age of constant uncertainty, you can’t control anything but your response. Gary Coxe’s book title is apt as well: Don’t Let Others Rent Space in Your Head. How much space are you renting out to others? Don’t give up the valuable real estate of your beautiful brain to anyone else. Acceptance will set you free from the struggle.

 

  • Don’t be a football of other’s opinions.  I wrote an entire piece on what I think is a similar quote from Wayne Dyer: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Gulp. How much of your time do you go around worrying about what other people think of you? Do you really have any control over it? Nope. Didn’t think so. Focus on your opinion of yourself. Do you like that dress on you? Then wear it. I coach so many women who are focused on other’s opinions. They are stuck until they figure out that their own self-worth is what’s important.

 

  • Stretch out your hands first.  Be the first to say hello or smile. My class had about 12 folks and most of them were immigrants from India. I could not pronounce most of their names. On the first day, we all introduced ourselves by shaking hands and having to say, “I am Cathy and I belong to you.” It was incredibly powerful to say that to a complete stranger, twelve times. Don’t we all really belong to each other? Wouldn’t that approach solve some world problems? Be the first to reach out.

 

  • Take responsibility.  Own what you do. Don’t point fingers. Blaming others or not owning up for your own life makes you untrustworthy. Someone did this to me recently. A relationship had not panned out and she blamed me for the fallout. I was not in the relationship nor did I have anything to do with it falling apart, since I did not know the other party. In the past, I would have felt guilty or argued back. But now I realize I can only take responsibility for myself and no one else. That is their path. Stay off their path and take responsibility for yours.

 

  • Complain = irresponsibility.  I have been suffering from this for months. I have complained about contractors, insurance companies, FEMA and my mortgage company. It’s debilitating. Take it from me and get your head back by not complaining. It takes you into a negative spiral, where all you look for is confirming information that everything is falling apart. Stay away from other’s who complain, if possible, as it is infectious. It’s hurting your ability to be happy.

 

  • Don’t try; just do it.  As Yoda famously said, “Do. Or do not do. There is no try.” I’ve been doing and doing and doing. The secret for me is to tackle only a few things at a time. It’s overwhelming to deal with everything at once. When I coach others, this is probably one of the biggest pieces of advice my clients take away from the process. Dice it up into doable pieces. Accomplish a little piece and the moment starts. Just do it.

 

  • Whatever you resist – persists. Psychologist Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” This is especially true with feelings. Most of us try to stuff our feelings by medicating, eating or ignoring them. It’s so important to feel the feelings of betrayal, or anger, or abandonment. You can’t go around it; you have to go through it to move on. Label the feeling as it comes up. So this is what betrayal feels like – burning in my stomach and tension in my shoulders. So this is what abandonment feels like – tears streaming down my face and wailing from my gut. You have to feel it to get past it.

I highly recommend the course. I am now into my 21st day of using the meditation and I am feeling more optimistic, more equilibrium and, slowly but surely, letting go of my resentment and anger towards others. What tenet resonates for you?

How to Be More Resilient

When Hurricane Matthew didn’t make the predicted hard right turn as it passed over South Carolina back on October 8th, and instead dumped 16 inches of water on our Eastern North Carolina lake-front home, I didn’t think that this experience was going to be a test in resilience. My husband, dog and I have been living at Camp Matthew for over three months now. It’s been uncomfortable. It’s been cramped. It’s tested all of our relationships. But it has made us all more resilient.

resilience

I have the honor of coaching some fantastic clients, two of whom had huge shifts if their lives this week. Those shifts happened because of their remarkable resilience. Just when you think you are at the end of your rope, there is a magical shift. Everything does a 180. If they hadn’t been able to dip into their bucket of resilience, I don’t think they ever would have arrived at their magic turning point.

Here are my thoughts on how to be more resilient:

  • Label the emotion.  I’ve been using the Whil app for about a year now. Whil has a whole host of teachers who have provided guided meditations and thought-provoking lectures. I listen for about 10 minutes every day. Several of the teachers talk about labeling your feelings. Say if you resent your boss for not returning your call, instead of ruminating, trying to escape, or stifling the feeling, call it out in your own head. Indeed, this is what resentment feels like. Then feel it. Do you find it in your stomach, your shoulders, a tightness in your throat, a heat at your temples? I’ve been feeling “helpless” because some days, there is a beehive of repair on our house followed by days of silence. When I label it and actually “feel” it in my body, instead of trying to escape it, it fades away. It’s difficult to be resilient if you can’t label and feel your emotions.

 

  • Acceptance.  In today’s day and age, nothing is simple. Whether you are in a legal battle, trying to sell your home, being audited or trying to get money to reconstruct your house after a flood. It’s not going to be easy. My clients and I have accepted that most things don’t happen overnight. Whether I need to call some federal agency, the mortgage company, flooring representative or an insurance company, I have come to accept that we are going to have to jump through a few hoops. If you let every one of those hoops devastate you, it will be difficult to have forward progress. Having an attitude of acceptance makes you more resilient.

 

  • Reflect on the progress.  One of the best reasons to have a coach is to reflect on your progress. My coach is the phenomenal Tammi Wheeler. She helps me reflect on the progress I’ve made, rather than dwelling on everything that has gone wrong. Taking stock is huge when you’re living in the land of limbo. So we may be living on top of each other at Camp Matthew, but we finally got a disbursement from the mortgage company. The sheet-rock is finally going up. The toilet is not on our front porch anymore. The attorney finally responded. I’ve turned in all the paperwork for the new mortgage.  Reflect and acknowledge what you have accomplished to bolster your resilience.

 

  • Be a quitter.  Say what, Cathy? What the heck does that have to do with resilience? As Eric Barker wrote for Time, “You can do anything — when you stop trying to do everything.” I can’t be everything to everybody. I used to cook every day at home with a new recipe every night. My husband and I rarely ate out. Now? I buy pre-marinated chicken, open a can of chili or meet my husband for dinner out. Maybe when I get home, I’ll be a gourmet cook again; maybe not. But I’m not going to feel guilty about taking some short cuts. Quitting some things helps you be more resilient with the things that matter now.

 

  • Routine.  I haven’t quit everything, but I have reconfigured my routine. In the days following the flood, I fell out of sync with my routine. I was a stressed out mess. As we regained power and landed in Camp Matthew (our wonderful, generous friends’ in-law unit), I reworked my routine of meditation, yoga and learning Spanish. Once my routine was back in sync, I was able to handle the ebb and flow of the aftermath. I personally credit my meditation practice and turning off television news with my increased resilience. but you need to find what works for you. In a state of constant change, having a routine that bolsters, rather than deflates you, is important for resilience.

 

There are going to be pain points. We are not perfect, nor will we ever be. There was a moment when I actually cussed out a customer service person. I’m not proud of that, but I was also able to accept this lapse in judgment at the moment. When you start going down that hole of negativity, just make sure you can resolve to step out of it and veer back to resilience.

The Aftermath from the Storm: Living in Limbo

I wrote about our experience with Hurricane Matthew last week and the flooding of our home.  As I write this, it’s been two weeks since the lake surrounded our house.  My world looking from the outside in “appears” to be normal.  We have lights on.  The trash and debris is slowly disappearing from our front lawn.  We drive back and forth to work.  The water is potable so no more gallon-size containers of water.  I’m at my computer writing and saving via Wifi.  I made our usual Saturday breakfast: eggs and bacon on our stove with gas.  I can recharge my cell phone, watch TV and take a hot shower.  Everything is as it should be.  But it’s not.

limbo

My husband and I have been riding the tumultuous waves of limbo land.  The apex of this was when we found out that we had to move out.  Two of our neighbors had moving trucks the day after the storm; carpet mounded on their front lawn and in debris bins.  I thought to myself, Well, that won’t be us, we can soldier through.  But after the contractor gutted the sodden insulation and ducts from under our house, I realized we couldn’t stay in our house anymore.  There is no HVAC.  There can’t be HVAC until all the sodden floors are taken out.  The sodden floors can’t be taken out until someone, hopefully the insurance company or FEMA, sends us a check.  Gulp.  It was fine to live in a house without HVAC as long as it was sunny with a high of 80 degrees.  It’s another story when the temperature dips into the 40’s.  So, there it is.  We have to move out.

 

So here is how I’ve been coping with the anxiety of living in limbo:

 

  • Meditation.  There were about 5 days post-Matthew that I wasn’t able to meditate.  I have an app on my phone that needs Wifi and, without Wifi and/or power, I was unable to meditate.  Meditation centers me.  I feel more resilient.  Sudden changes in plans; a zig instead of a zag; accepting disappointment and basic uncertainty are just easier to handle when I am practicing my regular meditation.  After a decade-long meditation practice, I experience a huge shift internally when it’s not in my daily routine.  I quickly get scattered and distracted.  It’s as if the anxiety sucks me in. Being present and mindful for even 10 minutes a day makes a huge difference.  Break out of limbo-land through meditation.

 

  • Break it into pieces.  Part of the issue with being in limbo is that it’s all so overwhelming.  So if you don’t know if the project is going to get the go-ahead; if you don’t know if you should buy groceries for the week, or pack up the entire house…or maybe just the bathroom?  Just break it up into manageable, informed pieces that you can deal with.  Otherwise, it’s all so overwhelming.  I’ve been frozen into inaction before because I didn’t know where to start.  I’m in the middle of setting up a training for two weeks from now.  I was struggling with getting started.  Then I broke up the whole project into units and scheduled 90-minute sections for each unit.  Finally, I have forward progress.  So just call the insurance company.  The next day, just call the bank.  The next day, go on the FEMA website.  Breaking it up makes it not as overwhelming and you finally get momentum and forward progress.

 

  • Take time off.  I know what you are thinking: But Cath, you need to get to work on that house.  Pack up the bathroom closet at least.  Nope.  I serendipitously had a massage appointment the Wednesday after the storm.  I went to the appointment.  I think it saved my sanity.  I needed an escape, and rather than constantly focusing on the house, I really needed to focus on myself.  Yesterday, my husband and I golfed in a charity golf tournament.  We needed a break from the grind of sodden cabinets and mud-coated tools.  It was great to spend time connecting and not caring a whit about the score (or the house).  We needed a break from the House Center Vortex of Anxiety.  When you are living in limbo, take some time off to escape and bring some joy into your life.  The mess, the challenge or project will still be there–you’ll be able to deal with it intelligently.

 

  • Exercise.  I had given up my morning walk.  It was partially due to debris on the road but also because I thought, You don’t have time to take a walk!  The trouble was that by day end, I was exhausted.  I spent all day worrying about a laundry list of items, like when is the HVAC guy coming or where is the plumber and will I be able to be home when he gets there.  More and more limbo creators.  But taking a walk really reduced my stress and helped me center my head.  It was also reassuring to see that other homes in the area were in similar stages of rehabilitation.  Just getting back into my body and out of my head was restorative.  Try and get some exercise to keep the limbo at bay.

 

  • Acceptance.  I’m learning to accept the good and the bad.  I am not in control of whether the power comes back on.  I am not in control of whether the cable starts working.  I am not in control of whether the insurance check shows up today or not.  So just accept it.  I cannot tell you how many times I have said, This too shall pass.  There will be HVAC someday, just not today.  There will be an insurance check someday, just not today.  There is a debris bin where there wasn’t one yesterday.  It’s all good.  It’s all as it should be.  I remember a friend of mine said on Facebook that we were having a house cleanse.  That’s a great way to reframe it.  We are just in the middle of cleansing our house.  Just accepting what is happening.  It’s as it should be.

 

My husband and I are slowly getting out of the fog of limbo-land.  We are starting to get better sleep, getting into a routine and focusing on what we can do instead of what we can’t.  You can do it as well.  Be positive and all will fall into place–as it should be.

25 Itzy Bitzy Mindfulness Habits You Can Start Now.

As Shirzad Chamine says in his 15 minute meditation resource (which is free by the way), “We spend so much time in our head, we can forget we even have a body.” When you think about it our head is about 10% of our body mass but we spend most of our resources and time staying up in our head instead of really occupying our body. Whether it’s a worry loop of “did I close the garage door this morning” or “don’t forget to buy ground coriander” or rehashing the disagreement you had with your partner, we spend a lot of time in our heads while our bodies are just going through the motions.

yEWFnFQRqfmY9l9efJ6g_Snap01-web

I love the analogy that Dan Harris uses in his book, 10% Happier, when he experimented in all types of meditation. “Meditation helps you get behind the waterfall (of thoughts).” As I like to say in my workshops, you want to stay out of the back of your head or your limbic system and stay in the front of your head where the prefrontal cortex is. Your best thinking is in the prefrontal cortex. The best way to stay there is to try and be present. Mindful.

So here are the 25 itzy bitzy habits to keep you in the present:

1. Smile when you enter a room.
2. Wiggle and account for your toes.
3. Take three deep breaths.
4. Feel the temperature and texture of the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
5. Touch your thumb and index finger to feel the ridges of your fingerprint.
6. Listen for the farthest sound you can hear.
7. Listen for the closest sound you can hear.
8. Feel the weight of your body on the chair as you work.
9. Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning.
10. Do yoga for 5 minutes in the morning.

Being more mindful is also about eliminating distractions. As Dr. Hallowell describes in his book, Crazy Busy, we all just skim through life. We don’t take time to ponder. I skim emails, texts, articles, and Facebook posts. We are in a constant state of distraction which creeps us back into our limbic system and out of our best thinking. So the next few itzy bitzy habits are about eliminating distraction so that we can get back into the present.

11. Turn off all notifications from social media and email.
12. Have a technology sabbatical after 7 pm.
13. Keep your phone in another room (or off) when connecting with others.
14. Set up rules for spam so it goes to your junk folder.
15. Set up blocks of time to work on important projects.
16. Set up blocks of time to answer emails and phone calls three times a day.
17. Set up emails as tasks so that your inbox is not your to-do list.
18. Touch an email once and decide what it is and handle it.
19. Listen to instrumental music while working.
20. Use Luminosity every morning for 5 minutes.

Another key factor with being present is actually being awake and well rested. Getting between 7 to 7 and a half hours of sleep a night is critical to success. Zoning out at work or at home with the folks that you love is not healthy. I’ve worked with a ton of clients around sleep I’ve talked with Executives who aren’t able to work as effectively because they aren’t getting enough sleep. This is not a personal issue, if you have employees coming to work zoned out from lack of sleep, they are not doing their best work. So here are some more itzy bitzy habits around being well rested.

21. Go to bed by a set time 15 minutes earlier than before.
22. Leave your technology in the bathroom or kitchen (not in the bedroom).
23. Set your alarm to wake up 5 minutes earlier.
24. Read a fiction book for 15 minutes before going to bed (it helps create dreams).
25. Write 5 things you are grateful for in a journal at the end or beginning of the day.

You might be wondering about the last two habits. When you are grateful, you are more positive. It’s difficult to be grateful and worry at the same time. By reading a fiction book at the end of the day, it helps kickstart dreams. If you watch the latest from CNN, you are more likely to have restless sleep and start the worry cycle again. Spark some whimsical dreams by reading some classics by Mark Twain or Charles Dickens. Which itzy bitzy habit will you start with?

6 Strategies to Kick Stress to the Curb

This is the time of year when most companies are in the middle of figuring out if they are as profitable as they thought. As efficient. If all the effort in 2014 was worth it on the bottom line. Annual reviews are being drafted, bonuses figured out. The worker bee hamster wheel is in full throttle. Will we have red or black ink on the bottom of that Profit and Loss statement? Kind of stressful and overwhelming.Kick Stress to the Curb

It’s so important to be able to take a break. Touch the pause button. Tough to do in a deadline driven society. There are so many business cultures where the guy who stays the latest or works every weekend is the hero. Burning the midnight oil is a sign of fortitude and admired by the guys in the boardroom. All you have to do is read a book like “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss and you realize that in the long run (or even the short run) being stressed out and overwhelmed is not the end all and be all of life. We all need to make sure we are grabbing a little balance and honestly – Maybe a lot of balance.

Here are some strategies to right the boat and eliminate some of the stress in your life:

1. Exercise. Ugh no. I hate exercise. It’s snowing out. It’s too hot. It’s dark. I’m too tired. It’s raining. I have said all these things. I have come home at the end of a hard day of work and thought “just sit on the couch and watch the news”. But I force myself to go grab my sneakers, dress appropriately (i.e. rain gear, reflector vest or gloves) and head outside. I might dread the first 5 minutes it takes to get myself together but once outside, I am able to flick the switch. I’m not saying I don’t think about the day or start thinking about tomorrow but I’m out in the elements. I’m moving. I have a new perspective. My heart is beating, my brain is being restored and my stress levels melt away. I don’t care what it is. Get moving!

2. Music. Find some calming music. This is not the time to break out some AC/DC or Iron Maiden. According to P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D, there are two criteria for music to be calming, “Tunes slower than your heart rate, and ones that are classical music, appear to be the most effective at soothing stress.” Grab some Mozart or Windham Hill or Snatam Kuar and chill out. You can even take a walk with your ear buds in and kill two birds with one stone. There is a time and place for upbeat music just not when you want to de-stress. Take five minutes at work and pop those earbuds in and chill out. It uses a different part of your brain. You’ll come back to do better thinking. Find your music.

3. Reading. This is not the time to pick up the newspaper which can be stress inducing. Find a book that will bring you pleasure and escape, an adventure for your mind. I read “Gone with the Wind”. No small feat. But completely engrossing. According to the University of Minnesota, “a 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. It works better and faster than other relaxation methods.” Personally, I think it’s due to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing from their perspective for a bit. Poor Scarlet and all her trials and tribulations. Suddenly I’m not worried about whether that client calls back. Pick up a book.

4. Meditation. Try just 5 minutes of meditation. I remember getting all wrapped up in doing it “right”. Let go of that. There are not meditation police that are going to come over and correct you. There are recordings, apps and books on the topic. Pick one up and give it a spin. Start slow and work your way up. Don’t go head off to a week long retreat at a Buddhist Temple if you are just getting started. Praying or Yoga can provide the same benefit. Pick what you are most comfortable with and get started. According to the Mayo Clinic, “When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day.” It’s like taking a de-stressor pill in the morning and it time releases throughout the day. Find your breath.

5. Control. It turns out that stress is dictated by our sense of control. So find things that are within your control. Strum a guitar, knit a sweater, paint a water color or write a blog. As Eric Barker wrote for Time Magazine, “Anything that increases your perception of control over a situation — whether it actually increases your control or not — can substantially decrease your stress level.” Bearing that in mind, reflect on what you are in control of. The time you get up, making lunch, your response to an upset customer. Realizing that you are in control of much more than you might normally think reduces your sense of feeling overwhelmed. Be in control.

6. Boundaries. Set clear boundaries. I leave my cell phone in the kitchen (far away from my bedroom) to charge all night. I don’t answer work emails on the weekend. I try to limit screen time (i.e. television, internet surfing, Netflix, etc.) to two hours a day. We eat dinner at the table with the television off. I try to do creative work early in the day and, as my willpower and concentration evaporates, I will work on more repetitive tasks like paying bills, social networking and returning emails in the afternoon. The world is constantly bombarding you for attention, set up some boundaries.

I have to say that having an empty nest has really helped my stress levels. No running out to school to drop off a book report or finding out about a last minute wrestling meet some two hours away. It might also be that I realize now that I am in control of my response to something that might be perceived as stressful. Take back control.

Untether The Balloon. 5 Ways To Detach From The Outcome.

I’ve just spent a few days on the West Coast and met up with a great college friend. We spent a lot of time talking about “Not being attached to the outcome.” She shared an example of a conference she attended where, a group of 30 had to divide into three learning groups. There was no guidance as to how the groups needed to be put together but that everyone in the group had to agree with the makeup of the group. That’s a tall order. She said they spent two days trying to divide up the groups. She was tracking certain folks she wanted to be with, but the turning point for her was letting go and not being attached to the outcome. She ended up in a group sans any of the folks she was tracking but it still proved to be a great group. Letting go of the outcome let her be open to other possibilities.

I was coaching a client this week who wasn’t sure they wanted to do an Ultra Marathon (over 26.2 miles). So I asked what the worst case scenario was and he said a, “To not finish.” I asked, “What is so bad about that?” He said ” Well, I guess I could try again, especially if it’s an injury”. Exactly. We don’t need to be so tied to the outcome….it is…what it is. Let the balloon go and let it float away.  Let. It. Go. red_balloon_by_snnr

So how do we let go, become untethered from the outcome? Here are some steps to try on for size:

1. Meditation. This seems appropriate since non-attachment has its roots in Buddhism. Spending even five or ten minutes on mediation each day helps you to let go of thought. It’s not like you stop thinking, but you learn to let go of thoughts as they come into your mind for ten minutes like little balloons lifting off. It helps you learn to let go of the story. Let the story balloons go as you meditate.

2. Open. Be open to all avenues. I have several ways to get to work. Some are longer, some have more red lights and some are prettier rides. Mess up your ride today. Go a different route. Quit being on auto pilot. I bet you don’t even remember the last drive you took to work. Let go of the assumptions of what is around the next corner, what will happen if your daughter drops out of college, or if you call back that client you aren’t sure about? What if you let go of the fear of quitting your job. Be open to possibilities.

3. Paradigm. Some paradigms are meant to be broken. A paradigm is a set of rules in your head. Many of these paradigms are built on the back of ghosts. If you struggled for money as a child, your paradigm might be about making a million dollars being THE only sign of success. If you only notice that thin people are successful, you might think you can only find success once you are thin. If you had a bad relationship with someone who is Korean, you might think that your child is doomed if they date a Korean. If you don’t want to be attached to the outcome, examine your paradigms…they are likely built on the ghosts of the past.

4. Acceptance. Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Brene Brown speak on her inspiring new book “Daring Greatly”. As Brene pointed out, it’s amazing how we all spend so much time judging each other. I can be devastated by a friend looking me up and down and assume they are judging my clothing selection. I can lose sleep over the fact that my neighbors must be mortified by our uncut lawn. I can make my child change what they are wearing to hope that they are judged by the pink polka dot socks and the purple suspenders. As Brene pointed out, everyone is busy being self-conscious and worried about their own thoughts. So how would you be without that thought? Let it go and accept.

5. Enough. You are enough. Let go of the struggle. You are perfectly you and no one else is exactly as perfectly you. Don’t wait for the next raise, or to hit the lottery, to lose twenty pounds or to marry the guy with the Ferrari. You are enough right now and forever. If you can be enough…right now in this moment…you can be enough even when you fail. Be enough (because you already are).

I have to say that I’ve been working on this for several years. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it and reflect on your progress, you will evolve into that floating balloon and let the wind take you where it will…and oh what a ride!