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.

Blogging, or a Way to Slow Things Down

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I had two thoughts when I read Beth-Anne’s post yesterday.  First, happy birthday!!  34 is doing wonders for you!

The second was wholehearted agreement that time often feels like it’s flying, and that I actually know of a way to slow things down, at least for me, and that’s to document what is happening during at least some of those days.  I blog.

I write something, and usually throw up a photograph (or 12).  I’ve spent three hours on a post; sometimes I blurt out whatever I can in the 12 minutes I have before my eyes close for the night, or throw up a picture if I have 12 seconds.  I don’t know how this works exactly, but the record-keeping seems to help me to experience what’s happened more deeply, to remember it better, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, to revel a little in the amazing bits.  And then, having such practiced this habit the night before, the next day I seem more alert to the life around me.  I breathe a little deeper, I notice a little more, I think of something else to write about.  Things slow down.

I’ve been blogging on a private site and here for over five years, and it might not be an exaggeration to say it’s been transformative.  Not completely on its own, because along with blogging I’m sure I was opening myself up to other positive and creative influences, but the personal blog was at the centre of much of this.

And then five months ago I stopped.

Mostly intentionally.  I decided to take on a large (for me, still providing primary childcare for three young kids) project that I believed would require all of my energies.  Many things slid, not just the blog.  Making things with the children and on my own, seeing friends and family, preparing and eating healthy foods – so many tenets that I enjoy and find meaning in kind of flew out the window.

It was not comfortable, and I’m not sure I managed it that well.  Yet I’m not quite sorry for it either.  Years ago I read Carl Honore who asserted in In Praise of Slow that slow living doesn’t mean that life must always be slow; it means that you are consciously choosing its pace.  Good slow living could therefore incorporate periods where life speeds right up, provided an assessment has been made that it’s worth it.  I felt like I did this and took a plunge (which I’ll be writing about soon!).

At some point though, perhaps a month ago, the pendulum swung to its outermost reach (where it really did not feel great), and began its arc of return.  My project was underway – nowhere near fruition but the birthing was done.  There is much more to be done, but now it’s going to get done with a bit more balance.  The period of continuous fast living is finished now.  I want to slow down, and gratefully, I actually know how.

A few days ago, for the first time in five months, I  wrote a personal blog.  And after I finish here, I’ll write another one.

I’ll tell you a secret about my post:  it’s going to be about shoes.  My three year old’s shoes, to be precise.  A few mornings ago, he curled up his toes and refused to put on his shoes.  This and other assertions of independence and will are becoming routine, and I had to get my other sons to school and the little guy to preschool, and resorted to tucking my struggling baby under one arm like a sleeping bag and toting him to the car, shoeless.  I put his shoes on the top of the car trunk while I buckled him in and the other boys climbed in.

If you are a parent yourself, you probably already know what happened – I arrived at school to discover one shoe on the car trunk.  I had forgotten to put the shoes in the car before leaving my garage and lost one en route somewhere.

Searching for shoes to go out today, I found that no pairs for my littlest except for a pair of flip flops, and as my son was wearing socks (which he really did not want to take off), this would not do.  Imagine my delight when I found two shoes – both running shoes, to boot – a left and a right.  Not a matching pair, but a pair.  Boon accepted.  We could leave, and I felt grateful.

The post was composed in my mind, and I later took the snapshot.  It’s just a brief and random bit about the day, not the most impactful or important, but I choose it anyway.  Now I’ll log it into my memory.  A nod to the day, a moment to take a deep inhale, and to say thank you for all of this.  Short, sweet, and slow.