Mind Full or Mindful?

forest-67286_640To end this month of gratitude and mindfulness, a post on meditation seems only fitting.

Last month I met Jackie. I have been curious about meditation and spirituality for some time but it was a few months ago when I was absolutely exhausted that I succumbed to that niggling feeling of needing “more”.

I was so busy contorting myself to keep all of the plates spinning and the thought that something was missing seemed idiotic. Even I recognized that I couldn’t possibly toss another in the air and sustain life at the most basic level. And then this thought: what if I just let some of these plates drop?

I am good at following rules and I held staunch to the golden one: finish what you start. So you see, the mere idea of saying “no” was counter to my beliefs.

But what if . . .

The worst that would happen is that I would cut my feet. And cuts heal.

I felt like I had known Jackie my entire life, and about 30 seconds after exchanging names, we hugged. In that embrace I felt calm.

I know, I know. Insert eye-roll here.

Sitting across from each other, I dove into my story. I explained to Jackie that I felt as though something was missing from my life. I have all the material things anyone could want. I have health. I have freedom. I have it all. But that’s not enough. I want to enjoy it. I want to live my life without feeling frenzied, harried and EXHAUSTED! But what’s worse, I felt shame for even admitting that I wanted more.

I know, I know. (There may be lots of eye-rolling here.)

Jackie sat across from me, listening to every word I said. She nodded empathetically and when I was finished with my rant, she quietly said, “I relate to how you feel.”

Jackie started to explore her spirituality when she was my age and living a very similar life. She too was baring the responsibility of child rearing and being a supportive spouse; she was also felt that there was something more like what I described.

Thirty-five years ago, Jackie discovered the power of meditation and began in earnest to study Buddhism over a decade ago, which she is quickly points out is a philosophy not a dogma.

I tell Jackie that I am just dipping my toes into this new way of thinking, that I am reading Jon Kabat-Zinn and struggling to practice Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) and in this little time, I have come to discover that “niggling feeling” has quieted, softened.

Jackie nods when she hears this. She leans forward, her blond hair brushing her cheek, and I get a good look at her face. She is radiant. Her eyes sparkle, her complexion is clear and she is focused solely on me. She never glances to her phone or excuses herself to tap out a text message. I am struck by how infrequently these kinds of interactions are becoming.

“Originally my practice was based more on mindfulness until I discovered Vipassana; in Toronto I sit with Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto.” Jackie goes on to describe a patchwork of experiences from sweat lodges in earlier years to silent meditation retreats that define her journey of spiritual discovery.

When I ask her what benefits she feels meditation brings, she is simple with her reply. “Learning to approach life with more calm, happiness and compassion.”

“You sound so enlightened.” I say this as a compliment.

Jackie looks somewhat aghast. “Oh no! I am just a beginner.”

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From My Book Shelf

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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown Ph.D., LMSW

The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion and Connection by Brene Brown Ph.D., LMSW

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Mindfulness For Beginners by Jon Kabbat-Zin

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Everyday Blessings: the inner work of mindful parenting by Jon Kabbat-Zinn

Mindful Parenting by Kristen Race, Ph.D.

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About Jacqueline Carroll:

Jackie has  has worked with both Asian and Western teachers.  Since 2001 Jackie has practiced specifically Vipassana Mindfulness meditation, supported by a Metta practice.

Jackie is inspired by her practice with various guiding teachers:  Sayadaw U Pandita, Burma, Sayadaw U Vivekananda, Nepal, Bhante Gunaratana, USA, Ayyang Ripoche, Ayya Medhanandi, Perth, Ont,  Ajhan Viradhammo, Perth, Ontario, Marcia Rose, New Mexico, Michelle Macdonald, Ottawa, Ont., Randall Baker and Jim Bedard, Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto, Toronto, Ont.

To learn more about meditation please visit, Harmony Yoga Wellness

7 Steps to Mindfulness

IMG_0458A few months ago, I embarked on a quest to be more mindful. I know – sounds like a bunch of hooey, but in truth my journey of self-discovery has been transformative. It’s not for the faint of heart to sit down and dissect every fiber of your being. It’s not easy to admit ones’ flaws but it’s a cake walk in comparison to actually working on improving upon those flaws.

So why am I doing it?

I want to live my life with intention. I want to have meaningful conversations with friends and not feel the compulsion to look at my phone. I want to read books. Real ones – with pages. I want to exercise to strengthen my body and be healthy not to do 100 burpees in 45 minutes and nurse my aching knee afterward. I want to live in the moment and not be so worried about what’s going to happen, what has to happen and what hasn’t happened yet.

But it’s hard. It’s really so very hard.

Especially living in a culture where being “busy” is seen as a sign of importance. Where people proclaim to be Type-A like a badge of honour (because gasp what if you were just you?) and if you’re not juggling more balls than your neighbour: you’re lazy, a slouch, a slacker.

I like to think that I don’t care what other people think of me; I am sure at one time that I did. And maybe subconsciously I still do. With the return of the school year and familiar routines, at times I find myself slipping, disoriented by the rush of it all, losing sight of what is really important to me. And for me.

Breaking this pattern of behaviour doesn’t happen over night but I am slowly implementing ways to be more mindful.

A Pathway to Mindfulness

There are no easy routes. Everything takes time and practice. Practice. Practice. Here are some tips recommended by various experts in the field (a reading list to follow on Friday).

  • Get over yourself and your ego. No one really cares. Everyone is too busy caring about himself or herself.
  • Learn to say no. When you say “no”, you are actually saying “yes” to something/someone else.
  • Let go of judgment. Stop judging others and more importantly stop judging yourself.
  • Carve out “protected time” for yourself. Whether it be a bath, yoga, reading with a cup of tea, exercising, – it doesn’t matter what you’re doing so long as it nourishes you. Do it alone and commit to it. Savour each page. Linger over each stretch. Feel the water.
  • Be honest about your experiences and feelings. Perhaps if we were all more honest and revealed our vulnerability these exceedingly high expectations we’re striving for would be recognized as unattainable.
  • Ask for help and accept it without judgment.
  • Set boundaries and respect other people’s boundaries. “Setting boundaries is a lot more work than shaming and blaming” – Dr. Brene Brown

None of this has been easy and most days I feel like I am failing miserably but then I remind myself I can begin again- right now.

And on the days that I am practicing mindful living, I am happier because I am busy being and not busy doing.

Summer Curiosities

IMG_4999I used to love the Fall: the reddening of the leaves, the crisp air, the blue bird skies but now it’s the summer that tugs at my heart.  I love the slow-down, the indulgence, and the warm weather but more than anything I love the break from routine.  Most people look at me like I am clueless, an amateur, when I say that my kids take a break from all organized activity in the summer and yes, that includes camp.

It’s a conscious choice- a more mindful one.  Before we became parents we would dream about our future family.  We never discussed what to name our babies (that could explain why we found it so stressful), how cute they’d be (given!), or what we thought about attachment parenting, but we did talk about the big picture.  And by big picture, I mean huge.  What sort of foundation would we lay?  What are the most important values we want to instil?  What memories of our own childhood do we hope to transfer to our own children?

A seed that grew from those early conversations was meaningful together time.  Admittedly, in the early years of parenting survival was key, and escaping for alone time topped my list of priorities.   Now, just like everyone said that it would, things have changed again – in what seems a blink of an eye.

No more diapers or strollers or sleepless nights.  No naps or a constant stream of illnesses.

We’ve crossed a bridge and I find myself on the other side, somewhat weary, a little bruised; simply amazed we made it through.  Now it’s time to put into action our plan for our family.

There are downsides to being a stay-at-home mom but there are a lot of incredible perks too.  It’s taken a long time for me not to feel guilty about enjoying them.

And so this summer, I did just that.  I made a dream become a reality.  I crossed off two weeks this summer, packed-up the boys and rented a house far, far, away from our everyday life.

These two weeks have been void of anything overly familiar (except whining and bickering), very limited screen time, and heavy on the family time.  What I have learned is without the constraints or pressures of our lives, our family unit grows stronger.  We challenge each other to try new things and spend time really talking and listening.  Most of all we each feel more vulnerable without the trappings of home and we only have each other to lean on.

I see my boys’ personalities developing.  I see their strengths and admit to myself their weaknesses.  I see them become more pack-like: defensive and protective while playfully mauling each other like lion cubs.

I have slowed down and allowed myself to indulge their curiosities.  How do seashells get their colouring?  Where does sea-glass come from?  Why do some fish swim in schools while others glide along the reef independently?

I hope to increase the time we spend on summer retreat over the years to the full two months.  I may be unrealistic.  It may be a harebrained plan.

But I have made it across one bridge and I see another on the horizon and experience has taught me that objects are closer than they appear.

Cell Phone Detox: A Cure For My Bad Habit?

phone-762550_640Like a dog that drools when he hears the biscuit bag tear open, my fingers twitch when I hear that ever-present, oh-so-distinct ping!  I reach for it first thing every morning, when my eyes are still heavy with sleep and my brain barely registering my surroundings.  It’s in my back pocket or the bowels of my purse, even on the marble counter adjacent to the tub while I soak.  It chirps at me while the boys maneuver the playground tagging their friends, while I pound the treadmill growing short of breath, and from the sidelines of coffee dates with friends.

But it wasn’t until my 3-year-old son followed me from the kitchen with my phone clutched in his hand that I had, to borrow a phrase from the divine Ms. O, an Aha! moment.

“Here you are, mommy.  You forgot your phone.”  His arm out-stretched and pudgy fingers curled around the glass.

Could I be addicted to my cell phone?

Author Ira Hyman asks the same question: am I addicted to my cell phone? in his article Are You Addicted To Your Cell Phone? for Psychology Today.  He cites Atchley and Warden’s (2012) study in which the researchers found the majority of college students were more likely to return a text message immediately and receive a smaller monetary reward rather than delay their response time for a greater monetary reward.

While I wasn’t a subject in the study, I am confident in my abilities to refrain from knee-jerk texting so this study led me to no conclusions other than the participants had more cash than I did when I was in university.

Maybe I am not so far gone after all.

However according to a recent University of Washington study researchers have identified four characteristics that may indicate concerning behaviour when it comes to the relationship you have with your cell phone.

1.    Anticipation: Frequently thinking about calls or messages you may receive.

2.      Activity interference: Choosing to spend time on your phone rather than talk to friends or family or engage in other activities.

3.      Emotional reaction: Becoming angry when someone interrupts your phone time, or feeling irritated when not on your phone.

4.      Problem Recognition: Recognizing you spend too much time on your phone and trying to cut back.

This criteria is ringing more true than I care to admit.

I don’t have to panic just yet though, because these same researchers from both studies have concluded that it’s entirely possible that in this cell-phone age this is the way we communicate with each other and stay connected.  The almighty, powerful cell phone has replaced outdated methods of communication just like the cordless phone replaced the rotary phone and rotary phone absolved the need for the courier pigeon.

Nonetheless I have grown acutely aware of the amount of time that I (and others) spend tapping away on their little glass screens and I don’t like it.

While I am not one for resolutions, I have thought about what I’d like more and less of in my life and the New Year is a fitting time to implement change.

I want to be more present in my life.  Remember the days when you used to sit in the doctor’s waiting room and tried not to get caught staring at the others waiting?  Remember waking up and not grabbing for your phone?  How about the last time I went more than two waking hours without answering that familiar “ping”?

I can’t remember and this realization leaves me no choice but to go on a cell phone detox and hopefully I will find myself more engaged in meaningful activities and conversations.

Margaret Hyde, author of Breaking the Cell Phone Habit offers practical suggestions of how to reduce the minutes, err possibly hours!, spent talking on the phone, playing on the phone, returning emails and texts on the phone  . . .

Cell Phone Detox Action Plan

  1. No texting or talking while being a passenger in the car.
  2. Turn off the phone after the kids go to bed.
  3. Over-night charge the phone using a receptacle other than the one in the bedroom.
  4. When possible leave the phone inside while outdoors.
  5. Delete time-sucking apps and unsubscribe from mass mailings that I don’t read.
  6. Keep a journal noting reactions/feelings about limiting cell phone use.

Calling all cell phone addicts – do you ever cell phone detox?  Any tips?  What are your feelings on the subject – is the cell phone a necessary tool to maintaining social interactions or is it a catalyst for a social isolation?  Is there a difference between virtual social interaction and face-to-face social interaction?

Simply Living or Living More Simply?

imgres-1I can’t simplify Christmas.  I just can’t.  I love the idea of homemade gifts but I can’t even sit down with the Rainbow Loom for 10 minutes without wanting to snap it in half over my knee.  I have been knitting a scarf – since 2005.  Why bother making my own preserves to gift over the holidays when I can mosey down to the specialty grocer and pick up something decadent without breaking a sweat, scalding my finger or cursing over botched batches.  No sir.  If you want to simplify the holidays, go on-line and get it all done with a few clicks of your mouse and a pounding to your credit card.

But the truth of the matter is that I would like my day-to-day life to be simpler, calmer and for me to be more present in the minutes as they pass.

Almost everyone around me is CRAZY BUSY, myself included.  In fact most people declare it like their worth is somehow tied to just how CRAZY BUSY they are.  In this model, success, talent, and with-it-ness is directly related to how many emails arrive in your in-box with each ping, how many activities are scheduled in the day and the number of projects that are being juggled.

What’s next OUTLANDISHLY BUSY?

I am blessed to have so many choices – something I realize is not a reality for many people.  But sometimes I wonder why I feel the need to grasp at everything?  Why do I want to experience it all?  Is it, in fact, to relish in the process and find happiness in the moments or am I choosing to swell my to-do list to satiate my ego?  Quell my insecurities?  Or maybe I am just greedy and because I have been told that I can have it all, I want it all.

The truth of the matter is, I used to equate slower paced living with laziness but now I think it’s smarter living and come the new year, I want to be living smarter.  In an effort to simplify my life, I have decided not to say “yes” but instead, “I will get back to you”, making mindful decisions about my time and in turn (hopefully) creating a more fulfilled life instead of a more filled life.