Background Shadow

When is Enough Enough?

 

Many of us are plagued by a common condition: we rarely appreciate who we are and what we have.  And so begins our endless pursuit of you-fill-in-the-blank, fueled by a nagging voice incessantly whining that we are not enough.  Sound familiar? You’re not alone, since humans have had this struggle for millennia.

How much was enough in the beginning?

In the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t seem to fully appreciate who they were or what they had – otherwise  they wouldn’t have grasped that which was forbidden.   The idea that they were not enough came from a source outside of themselves.  They believed what they were told, and their quest for enough cost the duo their prime real estate and easy life. [Read more…]

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Mindful Monday Tip #14: A Mindful Walk

Explore the Relationship between Mind and FeetCan something you do for a few minutes everyday really improve your life?  Many people affirm that daily mindful practices make a big difference in their lives: they feel less anxious, develop a growing sense of safety and security, and gain deeper personal insight from living more mindfully.  [Read more…]

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Mindful Monday Tip #12: What’s so great about the small moments?

Suze ignores the value of small moments….

What might the woman in the cartoon be missing from life?  She may be like a lot us  – easily dismissing small moments that we take for granted.  How often do we drink a cup of coffee, spend a moment with child, pet our dog or cat, or talk to a loved one without being truly attentive to and present with the experience?  It seems so easy to go through everyday activities like a robot and ignore the  small moments. [Read more…]

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Mindful Monday Tip #11: From Monopoly to a Mindful Check-in

Remember the game of Monopoly?  We all started from the same location, with the same amount of money, and a unique game piece.  As play progressed, we found ourselves in different positions on the game board, having different amounts of money in our personal bank accounts, each holding different investment properties.  With each turn, it was import to to know where we were starting from in terms of investment properties, play money, and position on the board.  That kind of play involves focused attention and intentional moves.  It’s how we took care of ourselves in the game world.

Now let’s leave Memory Lane to think about how we take care of ourselves in daily life.  While we may rock at personal hygiene and wardrobe attire, schedule manicures, pedicures, and a day at the spa, a quick observation suggests that many of us lack a daily awareness of where we are physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Dr. Elisha Goldstein describes this kind of awareness as an act of self-care and I believe its is very important.  Imagine what life is like without this kind of physical-emotional-mental awareness.  We may react in anger to a loved one when the real problem is our own physical pain.  We may make mistakes at home, work, or school when we are mentally distracted.  We may become overwhelmed by an uncomfortable emotion.  Without a daily awareness of our mental, physical, and emotional states, we can find it difficult to approach life with focused attention and intentional responses.  Today’s tip helps us to tune in to where we are mentally, physically, and emotionally.  That’s like identifying this moment’s personal starting point.

Mindful Monday Tip #11: The Mindful Check-in from Dr. Elisha Goldstein

  • Take 2 minutes to view the following video
  • Follow the instructions to find out where you are physically, emotionally and mentally.
  • Commit to a daily form of this self-care.

How might your life change when you begin to practice a mindful check-in?

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Mindful Monday Tip #10: On Control, Power, and Letting Go

Born into slavery in the first century A.D., Epictetus, a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher, advised humans to to “make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens”.  Almost 20 centuries later, Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, wrote an untitled prayer whose most recognized form is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

In their own way, both men challenge us to examine our need to control.

Aimed at other people, our need to control often creates power struggles which suck the life of relationships.  How often does the self-esteem of a spouse diminish when living under the control exerted by a verbal or physical abuser?  What about parents who place stifling demands on children just so parents will feel or look better?  What about adult children who tread on  elderly parents’ autonomy when the octogenarians are functioning fine?  How would you like someone to rearrange your cupboards to fit their agenda when your kitchen has been fine for you for 40 years?

Aimed at events, our need to control often creates power struggles with forces outside of our control.  Have you ever railed at weather that disrupted outdoor plans?  Felt hopeless or angry when the stock market took a dive?  Projected doom and gloom when the candidate you didn’t support won the election?  Ruined a meal by complaining when restaurant staff did not meet your demands for service?  Weather, stock market, election results, and restaurant service are generally outside our power to control.  So are a lot of other events.  Such power struggles sap our energy and leave us bent out of shape.

Imprisoned by a mindless need to control, we and our relationships suffer.

If we approach this topic with a mindful perspective, we will recognize and let go of our need to control people and events outside our realm of power.  Like Niebuhr and Epictetus, we will become aware of what is within our control and what is not.  Today’s tip suggests a way we can focus our energies on the former and let go of the latter.

Mindful Tip #10: Let Go!

From this day forward, challenge yourself to become aware of power struggles in your life, and daily make a choice to let go of the need to control some person or event over which you have no true power.

  • Pray Niebuhr’s prayer daily.  (You may recognize it as the Serenity Prayer used in 12-Step Groups).
  • Get a helium filled balloon and a permanent marker, and mindfully write the things you choose to let go of on the balloon.  With awareness of your choice, release the balloon into the sky, and imagine letting go of your need to control in these areas as the balloon  floats away.  If the balloon gets stuck in a tree or something else, mindfully recall that it is not in your hand.  You have let it go.

Nothing magical will happen when you release the balloon, but it may become a powerful reminder of the choice you have: to control or not to control.  That is the question.  

How might we and our relationships change when we let go of controlling people and events outside of power?

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Mindful Monday Tip #7: How to Handle Mistakes with Mindfulness

What happens when you make a mistake?  We’ve all experienced oops moments with varying degrees of severity: speeding tickets, burned toast, a missed bill payment, a forgotten birthday or school assignment.  What do you notice when you make a mistake?  Maybe your heart sinks and your gut churns.  Perhaps your mind is flooded with unpleasant reminders of your error.  Too often mistakes can direct our focus to a narrow realm of negative possibilities.

Maybe it’s time to challenge the way we perceive mistakes.  Perhaps our oops moments can become doorways to opportunity.  Henry Ford suggested as much when he said, “even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement”.   So instead of letting mistakes shine a light on our failure, this week’s mindful tip challenges us to let mistakes trigger a healthier form of awareness.

Mindful Monday Tip #7:  Mindful Mistakes

At least once each week, permit a mistake to trigger a mindful response.  When you realize you’ve made a mistake:

  • Observe what’s happening in your body – tension, rate of breathing, etc.
  • Notice the negative thoughts passing through your mind, and let each one float away like a fluffy passing cloud.
  • What do you observe when you focus on the oops moment without judgment?
  • What do you learn?
A mindful approach to mistakes may turn many oops moments into doorways of opportunity.  What might you discover with a mindful response to mistakes? 

 

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Mindful Monday Tip #5: Finding Peace with Mirrors

What happens when you look in a mirror?  Is the voice of a critic immediately unleashed in your mind?  Do you focus on a zit or a wrinkle and ignore the sparkle of your eyes or the beauty of your smile?  Too often mirrors automatically subject some of us to judgement.  Like the apple in the photo, we ignore what we are in the present moment, and focus on what we are not.

This week’s tip challenges us to look in a mirror without judgment, to practice awareness of our reflection without the usual distortion.

Mindful Monday Tip #5: Mindful in the Mirror[1]

  • Step in front of a mirror and remain there as long as you can (from 2-10 minutes).
  • Stay aware of your reflection for a bit longer than your typical level of comfort.
  • Notice any urges to step away and observe feelings of silliness or discomfort.
  • Become aware of how you think and feel about your body.
  • Focus on one part of your body and expand your awareness to your complete image.
  • Now describe your appearance instead of judging it: note color/texture of hair, texture of skin, shades of lip and eye color, texture of skin, etc.
  • Describe your shape using non-judgmental words like curved, oval, or straight.
  • Notice if you feel tempted to use words like fat/thin or pretty/ugly as you describe your appearance.
  • If your mind draws your attention to what you looked like in the past, or if it focuses on what you wish you’ll look like in the future, close your eyes and repeat the exercise.

What might you discover if you see yourself in the present judgment –free moment?   Maybe you’ll look more like a whole apple and less like a chewed up core.

 [1] Susan Albers, Eating Mindfully (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2012), 133-135.

 

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Mindful Monday Tip #2: Tune into Your Body

Remember when we had to adjust the rabbit ears on a TV in order to get a clear picture and undistorted sound?

Mindfulness is basically about eliminating distractions so we can tune in to awareness of the present moment.  Today, dear readers, we  focus on tuning in to the body.  Many of us move through our days on autopilot without awareness of how our bodies move until something doesn’t move or work properly.  When we have a stuffy nose, we miss our ability to smell and taste.  When we sprain an ankle, we miss our ability to run.  When we burn a finger, we miss our manual dexterity.  What might we learn if for a few days we pay attention to how our bodies move?

Tip 2: Mindful Movement

This exercise is about observation and becoming mindful of how your body moves (Albers, 2012).  Don’t change anything, don’t judge, just observe your natural movements in these situations:

Observe how you eat at meals.
o How much food goes in your mouth at one time?
o How fast do you eat?
o Do you mix foods together or eat one thing at a time?

Observe how you sit.
o What’s your posture like?
o Do you shift around or sit still?
o What do your legs do while you sit?
o How long can you comfortably sit in one place?

Observe how you move while talking.
o What do your hands do?
o What do your legs do?
o How close to do you stand to another person?
o Where do you look while talking?
o How loudly do you speak?
o What are your nonverbal expressions communicating?

Observe how your body moves you from one place to another.
o Discover the sensations of walking.
o Become aware of how your legs move – notice their rhythm and pace.

Observe how your body reclines.
o Do you lie down on your back, side, or stomach?
o Do you shift, roll over, or remain motionless?

Observe how you balance.
o How hard does your body work to keep your balance?
o Notice when you shift your balance or lean against something.

Observe your internal sensations.
o How do your joints and muscles feel when they move?
o Notice when they feel sore and when they feel good.

What changes for us as we learn to move mindfully?

Reference:

Albers, S. (2012).  Eating Mindfully.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

 

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Abandon Ship! Abandon Self?

We usually cheer at scenes in movies when someone yells, “Abandon Ship!” and crew and passengers safely jump to lifeboats in order to escape a sinking ship.  Understandably, we are shocked and disturbed when someone abandons an adequately safe and secure seaworthy vessel facing no peril.

Sadly, some of us were conditioned to abandon ourselves when we navigated the uncertain seas of childhood.  At some point, we abandoned the ship of Authentic Self, and jumped into the lifeboat of Conditioned Self,   where our awareness was directed away from our authentic identity and inherent value. Below is a little story about how self-abandonment once occurred without any terrible trauma.

 How Beautiful Baby Abandons Ship

Once upon a time, an unwanted baby was conceived in a troubled family.  When her prenatal presence was discovered, a discussion occurred in which Aunt asked to raise the baby.  At birth, however, Mom took one look at Beautiful Baby and loved her enough to keep her.  This heart-warming tale was often repeated to Beautiful Baby as she grew up, but it left her feeling a bit empty.  In a family where her practical needs were provided in spades, Beautiful Baby often felt ignored:  grownups focused on other things or people, not her.  To register on family radar, Beautiful Baby learned to please others, work hard in school, and entertain with humor.  Her focus was all outward.

Focusing all that attention on others still left Beautiful Baby feeling empty inside, so she learned to satisfy inner hunger with lots of yummy food.  This process worked so well that by kindergarten she got a new name: Too Big Girl.  Family talked about Too Big Girl’s weight all through elementary school, often using sarcasm to motivate weight loss.  But it was hard to lose weight when the family eating habits did not change.  In 5th grade, Too Big Girl’s mother came up with a solution to fix her daughter: Mom asked Pediatrician to prescribe diet pills for Too Big Girl.  Alas, the solution failed: Too Big Girl could not sleep and felt jittery all day long. The diet pills stopped, but Too Big Girl learned to reject her big body and denigrate her inner value.

By middle school, Too Big Girl knew that she had to work really hard to be loved and to matter in the world.  By high school, she had slimmed down a lot, but her name was stuck like glue.  Too Big Girl lived in the shadow of thinner girls, and although she was starting to feel kind of smart, she was sure that others were smarter.  She was one of several student speakers on graduation night, but only learned later that she had graduated at the top of her class.  By then, it didn’t mean so much because her rural school was very small and her feeling of emptiness very, very large.

This fairly true tale shows how one Beautiful Baby reached adulthood without exploring her innate value and Authentic Self.  Along the way, she was conditioned to devalue her body and dismiss her awareness of self, so she took on a new name – Too Big Girl – which reflected that she was just not enough.  Decades later, aided by a wise therapist, our heroine discovered that she had been wondering around adult seas in the Conditioned Self.  In therapy, she began the process of reclaiming her Authentic Self.  Her journey began with self-awareness.  Welcome home, Beautiful Baby.

What’s your ride on the high seas: Authentic Self or Conditioned Self?

 

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Mindfulness: Being in One Place at One Time

In  A Walk to Remember, Landon shows Jamie a painless way to be in two places at once.  In reality, many of us experience this dynamic without straddling a state line: our minds draw us away from the present moment.  Maybe it’s not so stressful when we daydream while driving, but it could be dangerous.  And our bodies and behavior may change in uncomfortable ways when anxiety directs our awareness to the future, or when regret focuses our awareness on the past.

What can help us focus awareness in the present moment – so we can be in one place at one time?  We can practice mindfulness – the state of being fully present in the moment in which we live.  Below is an exercise I learned as a mental health intern.  It has helped me and some clients recognize that the present moment can be a safe place.  I’ll write it as I do it.  It’s all about focusing on the answers to three questions: 

  1. What 5 things do I see in this room?
    1. A Green Cheeked Conure
    2. A laptop
    3. A tribute to my deceased Bedlington Terrier
    4. A Staple’s bag
    5. A library book bag
  2. With eyes closed, what 5 things do I feel?
    1. The comfort of jeans with spandex
    2. The weight of my watch
    3. The pressure of my left palm on my laptop
    4. The softness of carpet on bare feet
    5. The crispness of my shirt
  3. With eyes closed, what 5 things do I hear?
    1. The refrigerator’s hum
    2. My Coonhound whining
    3. Family talking
    4. Outside evening noises
    5. Ding of the microwave

Nothing magical has happened as a result of completing this exercise, but my awareness was engaged in the present moment – not engaged in worries.   What helps you to be fully present in the moment in which you live? 

   

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