Coronavirus – Mindfulness Derailed

3 simple things we can do to move forward in times when mindfulness is difficult.

If you’re anything like me: full time employee, mom of children in school, daughter of mother with alzheimer’s, spouse to now anxious husband…your mindful journey may be disrupted too. How do we get back on track. How do we keep our friends and family on track around us?

For some, their kids are out of school, others may have been home teleworking, and some have been sick. I’m praying, that anyone that gets this virus we recover quickly. And praying the financial stability of our world will return quickly.

Praying, (if you do this) is a way of releasing control…giving it to someone or something else. This is a great way to allow yourself to let go of things that may be too big to conquer alone. Ask yourself what it would feel like to give it to someone else to worry about while you plan for what’s to come.

Letting go, to me, is simply accepting what is…to be prepared for what’s next.

I’m not suggesting we stick our head in the sand. We can definitely take a moment to think of what we do have control over. For me, I have control over how I react to the craziness around me. I have control over not spreading panic or negativity. I even have some control over my health and wellbeing. I have some limited influence over reminding family and friends to be mindful in times like these. In turn, it is also a reminder to my own journey.

Bring it on.

So, what are some simple things we can do to proceed in times of mindfulness is difficult. It entails some planning for the days ahead to prevent heightened anxieties…I’m going to do the following for my family.

  1. Plan for items that promotes good sleep. Such as journaling, reading, or relaxing music before bed. Journaling can consist of just writing down things/feelings on your mind or even a simple todo list. Remind family and friends of these techniques.
  2. Plan for 15 minutes a day for something mindful with someone. Such as coloring, walking meditation, or observing nature (like photography). I’ve been finding these to be helpful and alternating between them..even before the stress of a virus.
  3. Let go of what is not in my control. This is where praying comes in to play for me. It could be other things for you. Such as, having gratitude for the universe and people we hold dear.

There are several more things we can do to promote mindfulness. But these are the ones I have in my toolbox at this time. They seem reasonable to me and I am a woman of moderation at heart.

We will persevere through these times.

A Moment in Nature

Nature keeps us in the moment and allows us to stop thinking about all our other thoughts. Today was no different.

I was thinking of more ways to be in the moment and had memories of taking photos of nature with my husband on our honey moon back in the day. My brother had given us a really nice camera for our wedding present (a camera he wanted to get more use). We gladly accepted it. This was prior to the digital picture age.

I remember how it slid us down a slide of learning everything about the camera options and lighting. We took a lot of photographs together and saw amazing sights. Taking in all the nuances of the scenes outside. We loved getting them developed and going over them and trying to remember which one of us took each photo and why. My husband was way more talented that I at this endeavor, but I loved being in the experience.

So, today I enlisted my daughter to use her digital phone and take pictures for my blog posts. She captured such incredible videos for a previous post, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. She went on a walk for some fresh air and captured the most incredible pictures today. It was raining earlier and she went out in the break of the rain.

What I didn’t realize is how many great shots she would get and how satisfied and relaxed she was when she returned. I thought to myself this would be a good reflection for today. I asked her what her top three things that were calming and mindful to her.

Top three reasons photography is mindful.

  1. Being tune with Nature and finding little nooks of peacefulness.

2. Ignoring any anxieties while focusing on the intricate details of the photo.

3. Focusing on this very moment and beauty of the shot without distraction.

When she returned and we were going over the photographs, and she was explaining her experiences, it really brought me back to how photography can be so calming and stimulate a mindful connection to nature and the people you share the photos with. I’m going to have to go with her next time.

This one is particularly fun, because there is a fly photo bombing in the flower. Can you find it?

Try Binaural Beats

I am recommending you try binaural beats and here is why.

Focus is definitely a skill, and I am looking into several ways to optimize. I ran across a type of music/sounds that can help with all kinds of focus and attention optimizations. It’s utilized in sound therapy, it’s used to help relaxation at spas, and in a variety of health promoting ways. It’s called binaural beats.

Binaural Beats is a type of brainwave entertainment. These type of audio sounds are known to induce enhanced focus, entranced state, relaxation, and sleep. I’m not going too deep into the science of it, but the sounds come in different frequencies from each ear and the brain meshes them into one frequency creating an optimal state in the brain for different benefits.

I have jumped on the bandwagon, even though it took me a while to get here. These audio sounds really helped me focus on a task I had been avoiding and easily distracted from.

I learned about this information from binauralbeatsmeditation.com. They provide pre mixed sound downloads to use for many benefits from sleep to focus, pain and healing, anxiety and stress, and relaxation and meditation. I liked them so much, I’ve partnered to promote them on my blog.

The guide to choosing the right frequencies is a bit subjective and has been noted that the brains interpretations can be different by gender and/or by hormonal states. I was primarily curious about Focus and Attention. So before exploring the Beta and Gamma offerings on Binaural Beats Meditation site, I also tried a few on youtube. I liked the option of choosing by frequency type and the ability to listen to a sample and download on their site rather than searching on youtube, although they do charge for this convenience.

I experimented and listened to several in different frequencies from Alpha to Gamma. I spent about 2 hours solid at a task I was not entirely excited about listening to the Beta frequencies. I felt they really did give me more focus and distracted any senses to take me off task. I only had one or two from my youtube trials give me a bit of anxiety, so be picky on your choices.

To get the most out of these binaural beats, you will need to use headphones. You will still enjoy the music, but your brain will not be stimulated the same way to mesh the frequencies together.

Create Optimal Experience.

This is a follow up to an older post Free Your Mind, with the idea that focus and intention may free your mind to true happiness. In my quest to train my mind to be more focused and in the moment, I came across articles mentioning this concept of “Flow”. I decided to listen to the book “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” by Csikszentmihalyi.

link to buy your own copy.

I figured it was worth digging a little deeper to get a better idea of the concept of Flow. I listened to the audio book on Audible during my commutes back and forth to work. I was surprised what a quick listen it was, it maybe took about 4 one way trips varying from 20-30 minutes. I listen to my books at 1.25x speed. I will provide an overview, but it may not do it justice in one post.

So, what is Flow?

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

wikipedia

So this state closely aligns with the ideas of intentional, mindful mental state that can create a more calm and collected feeling, thus giving us more enjoyment, more connection, and happiness. This state of mind is also a place that reduced distraction and chaotic thoughts.

I enjoyed the listen, but I will sum up the book here. There is a zone in which we can obtain Flow when we are intrinsically motivated and skill and challenge are balanced.

Skiing is a good example of Flow, if you’re not a skier I’m sure you could imagine another activity that this may relate. Let’s say you enjoy skiing, so this an intrinsically motivated activity. You’re on your way down the slope, going quickly with full attention to your skis, your movement, complete concentration on the task at hand. You’re thinking of nothing else and your body is using muscle memory skill to navigate down the mountain. To a competent skier, they are “in the zone”.

Csikszentmihalyi walks us through many research results (using Experience Sampling Method, or ESM) on groups of people logging their activities and the level of happiness. Although, the author seemed to feel, the happiness results were suspect because the participant was not doing something meaningful (which I felt was a bit subjective). I think the author wanted the results to align with the model of optimal experience, not only for the individual, but the community as well. TV watching was low skill and low challenge, but a participant would mark it as a happy experience.

The author divides our time into three main categories:

  1. Maintenance – scheduling,bills, house cleaning, tending to family
  2. Leisure – hobbies, media, social
  3. Work – employment, volunteering

I believe Csikszentmihalyi might be a little behind the times on gender stereotyping in this book. But, I will give him a break, due to his age and the timing of the research. He does go into detail about the differences of male and female experiences with Flow and when each experience better flow. Although, he does integrate the idea of a working mother and indicates that women tend to have the majority of the maintenance tasks that may not have a high intrinsic motivation.

The book points out several ways to change your mindset to experience Flow more often, even with the maintenance activities. It goes on with an example of thinking through a maintenance activity, such as doing the dishes. Instead of thinking “I have to” do the dishes, to think “I get to” do the dishes (Yay, <insert sarcasm here>). But, in all seriousness, I think the idea works in the mindset of what our ‘why’ is. Instead of thinking of it as a drudgery, to think of it as achieving the goal of keeping a tidy house free of bugs. In this way the goal provides the path for the intrinsic motivation to do the task.

He elaborates on this with an example of setting performance goals associated with these maintenance activities such as doing the dishes faster than the last time, or more efficient than the previous time. Make a game of it, to increase skill and complexity…therefore increasing Flow opportunity. Here is a post that might help…

9 Unique Ways to Use Less Water when doing the dishes

Keep the goals closely aligned with skill as to create a challenge that is not too overwhelming. Small increments to challenge to build the skills.

As I got to the end of this book, I thought the exploration of social and religious comparisons of creating positive Flow activities were interesting, but I think they drifted a little further than my intention for the topic and what I was looking for.

I couldn’t help thinking, while listening, how do we reduce the chaotic consciousness from interfering with flow. Things like text messages, kids emergencies, parent illnesses, scheduling conflicts, etc. The the narrator got right to it. You have to prioritize and proactive with your time and be intentional about doing or not doing activities as to reduce the chaotic thoughts.

My next thought, was what if my list outways my time. The very next section indicated to draw a line under the planned tasks for the day and not let anymore be added to that day. < insert small chuckle and shrug >

So, I’m going to refresh my daily task organizer and prioritize. I will start up my 7 habits program again. Which seems to be very much in alignment with the philosophy. I would say this book was motivating and revisited a lot of things I’ve already learned, but I may have lost that intrinsic motivation on.

Improve Focus

What to get out of this post: 3 mindful activities that can help increase the ability to focus. They have equal benefit for men, women, and children.

  1. Coloring
  2. Walking
  3. Connecting with Nature

Coloring

I find the coloring is pretty easy and good way to practice a laser focus on the ‘here and now’. You want to be intentional about the activity. Meaning, set a time and a find a place you are undisturbed…keep your attention to the coloring and when your mind drifts off (which it will) redirect it back to the physical act of coloring, choosing colors, the texture of the paper, the pens or pencils, the sounds, etc.

Walking

I used to walk and just let my thoughts wander and go from thought to thought, I would work out problems to solve or plan things I needed to do that day. Which is valuable, but the practice of mindfulness walking that trains the mind for focus is a bit different. It is an activity of intention and discipline to stay focused. Each step having intention and observance of the action, and feeling every motion and interaction with the feet to the ground.

The following information is a good to start: A guided ten minute walking meditation by MrsMindfulness. She also posted a soundcloud guided meditation.

I really like the following quote from the guided walking meditation.

“…Aiming to put aside any mental commentary, labeling or judging about what you see, and instead just being present with what is here to be seen…”

https://mrsmindfulness.com/guided-walking-meditation/

Connecting with Nature

Connecting with nature can be done in multiple ways and I’m only scratching the surface here. One way is to observe nature and really focus on the details of what you see. When other thoughts interrupt, use the study to refocus on the nature you are observing. Think about the texture, the smells, the movement, colors, etc.

I started adding pictures and videos of nature on the lifeinspiredreflections instagram account. It’s been really fun to work with my daughter to capture these and post them. We will continue to post more. Here is one of a flower.

Another way to use nature for practicing mindfulness is picturing in your mind of something in nature you’ve seen before. Sit without distraction and close your eyes and visualize every detail…try to rebuild the image in you mind. Even better describe it to someone else with you. It’s harder than you think and does take some practice.

There are several more out there related to nature. The main thing I’m getting out of these is the practice of keeping the mind focused. I find distraction in almost every corner these days and I used to be very intentional with my focus. I am working to get that back and attempt to make it a subconscious skill again.

Thank you for reading…stay tuned for more ways to practice in simplistic ways. Please comment or email easy ways you’ve practiced mindfulness.

“Be Here Now”

“Be here now” is a phrase that was used as a culture shift at an employer I worked for in the early 2000’s. With the introduction of blackberrys, telecommuting, and multi tasking, this phrase resonated and made a huge impact on me. I still hear myself using it with my kids and my inner voice when I’m trying to concentrate or regain focus. I had to use this phrase in my mind today and thought it would be a good reflection to share.

I remember when we had our cultural training and “Be here now” was introduced. We would primarily use it when a colleague was trying to multitask in a working meeting that needed undivided attention to carry out decisions. You would catch colleagues trying to catch up on their emails and text messages…a quick “call out” to make sure we all practicing “be here now” would quickly redirect attentions back to the meeting at hand (most of the time). This little phrase has had such an impact on my life.

Today, while visiting my mother at her residential memory care at lunch, this phrase came to mind. She is in the later stages of dementia of Alzheimer’s type. She is wheelchair bound and has difficulty finding the words to express herself. She was trying very hard today to speak, but I could not make out more than the first one or two words of it. It’s getting harder and harder to interact with her verbally or doing activities with her.

In the earlier stages we connecting while reading books, coloring, playing bingo, singing at church. But today I found myself lacking the attention to our connection…talking to the staff, surfing my phone, texting and making dental appointments for my kids. As I looked at her, this little phrase came over me, “be here now”. I took a deep breath and realized I was somewhere else in my mind. I refocused in the present and held hands with my mother, it brought both of us to calm and present place together. I was so grateful for this little phrase. A tool that had been given to me. How many times have we missed the connection with a loved one in the midst of distraction of the past or future.

Heading home from my visit, I thought, where did the company get this phrase…I don’t think I ever thought about where it came from. Wikipedia notes that it comes from the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, from a book he published called “Remember, Be Here Now” in 1971 on spirituality, yoga, and meditation.

Now, though I am a beginner on the path, I have returned to the West for a time to work out karma or unfulfilled commitment. Part of this commitment is to share what I have learned with those of you who are on a similar journey. One can share a message through telling “our-story” as I have just done, or through the teaching methods of yoga, or singing, or making love. Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of wisdom. For me, this story is but a vehicle for sharing with you the true message … the living faith in what is possible. –OM–[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Here_Now_(book)

I will definitely be adding this book to my reading list and I will bring more learnings to these reflections. I’m no yogi, but I think this blog is going to be my unique vehicle for sharing and getting feedback from readers on similar journeys.

Be Here Now. Please comment what tools or phrases you use to re-focus to the present moment.

The Journey Begins

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

I’ve started inviting people to my blog and I’m sure if you’re here, you’re wondering why. I have been thinking of starting a blog for a long time, probably years. This is definitely a little out of my comfort zone and a growth opportunity. But primarily for me to experiment if blogging can stimulate more mindfulness in my life while trying to connect with others at the same time.

I am going to take followers along on some of my experiences and thoughts that, without this forum, would just fade away. I’m hoping to have a chance to be inspired as well as learn a bit on these little life reflections. I’m sure my reflections will sometimes be “laugh out loud” moments, sometimes a little random, so please bear with me.

I will likely cover a few topics, since my life ranges from wife, mom, taxi, computer geek, crafting, reading, shopping, art and music enthusiast, ‘want to be’ chef, etc. I have kids in middle to high school, so I’m sure they will come up occasionally on my adventures. I will try to keep the blog active and would really like interaction and feedback.

Welcome aboard. I would also love to make some friends along this journey with similar interests and positive vibes. Please don’t forget to follow, subscribe, and share.

Coloring with Intention

I’ve never really been much of an artist myself, but I’ve always been an admirer and supporter of art and artists. I find observing art and thinking about what it took to create it very meaningful to me. I can really dive into related memories and observations that the art provokes. I am so blessed I have friends and daughters that have the gift of art and appreciation for it. I have even been thinking of experimenting with simple art myself.

Recently, as I got a starbucks and perused target while looking through the book isle, I ran across some coloring books for positive thinking. Considering my desire to do some simple art, I wondered if coloring would help me be more mindful. Post I’ve read recently even claim coloring can create a meditative state. They claim you don’t even really need to think about it, the calmness will come naturally with the activity.

I brought my book home and sat it on the coffee table. Thinking this will be relaxing and enable me to share my experience as well. After walking past it a couple days, I ordered some cheap markers and anxiously awaited their arrival from amazon. They arrived the next day.

The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.

– Thich nhat hanh

I collected up markers and my book and tore out the first page. I highly advise if you try this to get the perforated paged books. It’s much easier to color them independent of the book itself. I found a comfortable spot on the couch and started in on my adventure.

I immediately noticed, as I opened the markers, that I was very much in the present moment trying to decide what colors to use. I started with a lite pink marker. As I picked it up I realized I had not used a felt marker in a long time and it was very lite in my hand as I started to fill in the first shape.

I started to notice how quiet it was in the room and my breathing was relaxed as I chose each shape to be pink. I didn’t pre choose a color pallet, but that may have made it even easier on me during the activity. Each time I chose a new color, I just spread that color out across the pattern. I was listening to the marker sweep across each stroke to fill in the shapes. I was coloring very contently for about 15 minutes.

At the 15 minute mark I did find that my mind was trying to pull me away from the present. I was determined to stay with my intention of coloring a single page. I stayed focused to finish the outside pattern for about 5 more minutes for a total of 20 minutes. But my page was only half completed before I needed to start some food preparation and dog needed let out.

Lucky for me, my daughter came walking into the room right as I was wrapping up. I showed her what I was doing and asked her if she wanted to try it. She finished the middle section for me in a beautiful pattern of colors which is now my profile picture of an owl with flowers around it.

So, I do think this is worth the practice. I noticed that it does help you to be more aware of the present even after the activity. I will see if my patience improves with practice. I have a whole book to color now. I have posted some of the resources I used to find information and more examples of this activity.

Resources

These resources have information about how to do this activity and also lots of free resources for coloring pages to print as well as some Amazon links.

Mindful Rain

Yesterday was a torrential downpour of rain in the morning. I had just dropped off my daughter at ballet and was sneaking in a well deserved cup of coffee before headed in to my exercise class. As I pulled up to the cafe, the downpour started. It doesn’t rain much where I am, so the rain was a huge event. I stayed in the car a little nervous to get out, until a little letup emerged and went in for my coffee.

I took a seat next to the window and watched the rain for a bit. Now that I’m inside and warm, thinking to myself, is this mindfulness? Watching the drips of rain coming down the windows, observing it hit the tree leaves and run off onto the tables outside. Watching the grey clouds drift by. It felt very comforting and took me away from the day to day grind and the disruption of the rain itself. I couldn’t help myself to do a quick google search on rain and mindfulness.

I got a ton of hits. But not what I was expecting. It surprised me to find there is an acronym RAIN and a practice that is used to be more mindful. The following are a few links that came up that were very helpful in understanding this practice in way more detail than I can discuss intelligently.

But the jist of what I turned up, while sitting in the cafe, will be very helpful in our mindful journey. So, as I read these posts while sipping my coffee and listening to the rain outside I decided to try it with this new tool. Here is how I thought through the RAIN method with my adventure in the rain. It has four steps…

STEP 1 – Recognize

This is the recognition of what is happening around you. For me it was raining, and raining pretty hard. I had no umbrella or jacket with me. At first I thought of it as a total disruption. I was recognizing that I was stressed about getting soaked right before my workout, the fact I don’t carry an umbrella in my car, and being delayed for my nice warm coffee adventure.

STEP 2 – Allow

Allowing the acceptance and acknowledgement of the situation. I cannot control when the rain will come and now it’s here. I may not like the timing, but none the less it is here. The ability not to resist the reality of the rain presenting itself. The water from rain will dry or maybe the rain will pass quickly.

STEP 3 – Investigate

As some of the articles say, this step may not be needed in all cases. Just allowing the situation to exist may be enough for some. But this step can be used for the why did my emotions rise, creating a resistance to the reality of the rain. I thought this through with my situation. At first I was almost going to scrap my coffee outing and sit in my car and sulk about the rain, but I persisted to work around it. This may not come naturally to some, so I’m thinking this would be very helpful to ask the “why”. I think the why for me is the rain seemed to come out of nowhere and derailed my plans.

STEP 4 – Non-Identification

This last step is the recognition that you are not your thoughts and that you can observe your thoughts. I love the analogy of thoughts are like clouds and they are always passing by. Sometimes they are white and fluffy and sometimes they are grey and dark. Yet, they are always passing through. This step can allow us to just go inside for a cup of coffee when the clouds are raining on us.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, we learned a lot today and found some good resources on the RAIN practice. My example was probably a little light, but I would imagine this practice is especially helpful in very strong emotional responses too.

Grounded by Plants

The kids are out of school this week and today, being Friday, it’s the last weekday of the vacation. We had plans to go rollerskating, but plans fell through. We’ve been doing a lot of indoor activities lately, so we thought doing a little planting in the backyard would be grounding to the mind. So, we all jumped in the car with a small budget and headed to home depot.

We got to home depot, parked, and walked into the garden center entrance. The pollen hit us like a wall. I tried not to mention all the medicines traversing in my mind that we may need to take when we get home. It wasn’t long before the kids all remembered how allergic they are to pollen. I reassured them we would make the trip short and queue up some allergy meds when we get home.

The succulents were the attraction today. The are so little and cute and some have bright colors and others are grafted with cacti. My teens immediately turned to adopting a succulent instead of gardening in the sunlight and transplanting flowers in the effort to refresh the yard. Of course they didn’t realize I had plans to sit with my spouse and have a nice glass of wine after their hard work of refreshing the planting. But, I couldn’t resist their enthusiasm to adopt a small house plant for their rooms, with the condition we still do the refresh.

So, the plan worked. We meandered through the garden center and found some amazingly beautiful plants within budget to make the yard pop with color. As we chose the annuals, we enjoyed the pollen and the busy bees. Without panicking during the observation of the bees, I redirected the kids down another isle. Right in the middle of my redirection, my older daughter immediately calls me out on the redirection and reminds us that mom is allergic to bees. She’s totally on to my tactics.

As we were checking out I was remembering how amazing it is to have your hands in the soil and planting in the sun. How mindfulness is just a byproduct of this activity. I was excited to share this with the girls. We got everything in the car and headed home.

We got home, brought in the plants, and started planning out the refresh in the back yard. I forgot how small our backyard is and from planning to executing this mindfulness activity took a total of about 15-20 minutes tops. The actual walking around the garden center was the most time staking part of the journey in this event. But, the girls completed the journey we set out for and we had a great time together. They feel pretty accomplished with the refresh and that is what we set out to do. So, I think my glass of wine will be mom’s mindful activity today watching the sunset.