Mindful Thanksgiving Day CHALLENGE

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Maleficent in laws, impossible menus, bumper-to-bumper car trips, stress, anxiety, fear… oh my!  Sadly, these are the situations and emotions that plague many of us during a holiday that should IDEALLY be marked by gratitude, bonding, serenity, and joy.  Mindful living techniques to the rescue!  To me, mindful living, being completely, non judgmentally engaged in the present moment, provides me with a type of “lens” through  which I can shift my perception of situations that have the potential to unsettle me.

The traditional Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it, is one of those holidays that may provide the perfect opportunity to consciously practice mindful perception, or to perceive through a “mindful lens”.  All senses are engaged as stimuli are heightened: there is the preparation, the family engagement, the travel, and of course, the food.

So are you ready for the Thanksgiving Day Mindfulness Challenge??!!

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Lil’ Thomas made this for our library.

In the Morning

Before you jump out of bed to start the day, take a deep breath, and feel gratitude.  This is a simple ritual that I try to practice every day.  Be thankful for your body, your breath, and your life.  With all of its aches and pains, your body is a gift, and our ability to sense and feel is a blessing we take for granted when we are caught up in thoughts.  Then extend the positive emotion with a lovingkindness meditation.  This is a Buddhist practice through which you focus intently on love for yourself, then for your loved ones, then to those in your life to whom you feel neutral, out toward those with whom you have conflict (a tough one, I know!) and finally, out to the world at large.

Traveling

How many times have you driven from A to B without recalling the journey at all?  How many times have you blown past your exit because you were so wrapped up in thought?  Before discovering mindfulness, this was my daily work commute to a T!  Ugh…  You know the burning in your face and sickness in your stomach that occurs when people honk their horns or cut you off in traffic?  That, my friends, is the fight or flight response.  The primal part of our brains translate that type of experience as a mortal threat, and like a deer in headlights, our bodies act accordingly.  If this happens to you, recognize the sensation for what it is and find that it passes more quickly.  Fully engage yourself in the process of driving.  Feel the power and the miracle of the vehicle you are controlling to move at such speeds.  Take in the scenery lining the road in front of you.  Notice the angle of the sun.  Focusing in this way will pull your focus away from worry and anxiety about the visit to come.  (Are you flying?  Read Mindful Flight.)

Communication

This first suggestion may be an easy one for me as I am more of a European football fan (soccer) than one of American football.  (Sorry!!  Lol)  Although I won’t suggest you turn off the TV altogether, do attempt mindful communication with your family members.  When people speak to you, look them in they eye.  Give them time to complete their thoughts.  Note body language.  Are they anxious depressed?  Consider this when processing what they share.  Secondly, don’t forget to focus mindful attention on the kids.  See them for the blessing they are, even of they are wreaking havoc and making a mess!  Don’t interrupt their play, just watch.  And finally, don’t forget our furry friends.  Poor pets…  They are often the lowest on the totem pole.  Pay attention to them!  Be mindful that holiday celebrations can be incredibly stressful for animals (noise, break in routine, perceived threats, etc.).

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Jess brought this to work. It was a whole cake before first period!

Sitting Down to the Meal

NO PHONES.  I repeat, NO PHONES.  Rude during ANY meal, this practice takes inconsideracy and mindLESSness to a whole new level during holiday meals.  Pay attention to your family and engage in a practice called mindful eating.  (NOTE: Mindful eating is a common therapy for people suffering from eating disorders.)  As tempting as it may be to gorge yourself (My personal weakness is sweet potato pie.  I am actually drooling at the thought!), slow down.  Take a moment to smell the food before stuffing it into your mouth.  Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing, noticing texture and consistency.  How about temperature?  Note the difference between hot and cold dishes.  LOOK at the food.  See the rich, diverse colors; cranberry, greens, and shades of brown.  Slowing down will enhance your enjoyment of the meal, and potentially avoid the need for antacids later on!

Reflection

At the conclusion of your mindful Thanksgiving Day, congratulate yourself for allowing yourself the opportunity to fully embrace life, mindfully.  How did the lovingkindness exercise in the morning impact your attitude throughout the day?  What miracle of nature did you notice during your mindful travels?  What did you learn about someone in your family that you would have missed had you not payed attention?  How did the mindful eating turn a gorge-fest into nourishment for the soul?

Holding That Gratitude Throughout the Holiday Season

READ one of the following children’s books.  Trust of your Mindful Librarian!  One is more beautiful than the next:

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks (Julie Andrews Collection)

Buy on Amazon

 

There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me

The Giving Tree

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (Classic Seuss)

Gratitude Soup

Tiny Teachers and Mindfulness Masters

This past summer, on one of the most picturesque mornings (sunny, dry, and cool), a friend and I went for a hike in Cold Spring Harbor.  It was a wonderful, mindful experience.  The colors of nature just popped and every hiker and runner we passed was glowing with positive energy.  At the highest point of the trail, we could look down and see the water of the inner harbor gleaming like uncut sapphire.  The brightest shine, however, didn’t come from the sights or the people on the trail…  

After the hike, we stopped in town to recharge over brunch.  We chose a cozy,  kid-friendly gourmet market/cafe with a huge candy and fudge counter.  As we chatted, my eyes kept pulling my attention back to a mother and child who also came in for a bite.  The little boy was absolutely adorable.  Dressed to the nines, he looked like he could have just stepped out of a children’s clothing catalogue.  

Outfit aside, what struck me about him was his face, particularly the eyes.  Ice cream in hand, he moved past the candy counter, glowing with complete wonder and contentment.  He paused periodically only to tackle the cone in his hand, which he did with complete relish.  Not a single care in the world.  Completely in the moment.  Wide-eyed with wonder and appreciation.  A tiny Buddha.  The perfect picture of mindfulness…  From the corner of his eye he glanced a dessert shaped like a cute monster, dashed over to the candy counter glass, smushed his free hand and face against it, and squealed happily for his mother to come see.  My friend and I just smiled.

At this point a profound thought crossed my mind.  Imagine if we, as adults, could move throughout our lives with the same wonder and appreciation, free of past regrets or worries about the future.  Now of course, adult concerns and responsibilities are realities we need to face in order to function in this world, but when we are not actively engaged in problem solving, why not try to view the world through a lens like the glass of the candy counter?  

As a practitioner of mindfulness, I must say that the “kid’s-eye-view” of the world is by far my greatest analogy for mindful perception.  Mindfulness courses, books, groups and instructors provide guidance that will improve your practice, provided you do just that; practice.  But looking to kids as the embodiment of mindful living is a sweet way for you to reinforce the way mindfulness can improve your overall wellness and happiness.  So, how to apply this to life?  For one, if you either have, or work with, little children, foster and nurture their sense of wonder whenever possible.  Let the weight of the world fall upon them gently if you can.  And as for yourself, look to the little ones as models of mindfulness.

 

Fika: A Most Mindful Coffee Break

I’ve read and written about the Danish concept of Hugge, a term for which there is no, direct English equivalent, but which translates loosely to coziness, the joy of time with friends, and gratitude for the simple things.  Tapping into my inner Scandinavian, (I’m not really Scandanavian, at least not to my knowledge!) I have discovered a second term; fika, coined by the “happiest people on earth.”

Fika translates literally to “coffee” but the term encompasses more of an idea aligned with hygge.  The word can be used as a noun, but also as a verb, “to drink coffee.”  To the Nordic countries, which consume more coffee than any other area in the world, fika is as integral to daily culture as sitting down to any other meal.  But as hygge is more than just “cozy,” fika is more than just time for a caffeine buzz.   To my understanding, it has very much more to do with mindfulness and mindful communication.  It is about consciously taking a break from the hustle and bustle and stress of everyday life to be completely present over a steaming cup of warmth, and if possible, in the company of others. VERY hyggelie…

In my own life, I have made a conscious point of experiencing fika every morning (I give the experience an energetic kick by pulling in some Reiki.)  The brain processes content in chunks, and the same way a body builder needs to pause between reps in order to maximize the effect of a workout, we need to stop and pause throughout the day.  The true experience of fika in the Scandinavian sense takes place during work day and has been a most powerful bonding experience for me and my colleagues.  

Luckily, one of our most frequent library regulars is a Family and Consumer Science teacher, who contrary to our protests, brings in homemade confectionery delights that knock each one of our diets out of the water.  So be it.  A steaming cup of vanilla Joe, a heavenly slice of banana nut bread, and a hearty laugh with fellow teachers is just yet another reason the Danish have got this whole living life thing right.  

The Wheel of the Year

Tomorrow begins our Memorial Day holiday weekend, so my colleagues and I thought it a good time to sit down and go over our calendar for the rest of the year.  I nearly fell out of my seat!  Three more weeks of classes??  There is still so much for us to do.  (Let’s not even consider the dust-covered reference in need of weeding.) 

Now for the past two months I have been patiently (sort of) enduring the freezing rain and grey sky, along with the unusually slow first blooms of spring, in the great anticipation of summer vacation, as most of my teacher-friends will sympathetically understand.  But sitting down today with the May and June calendars set in front of me made me wish things could slow down… just a little, and reminded me of the importance of being mindful and present and truly appreciating the wheel of the year.

The wheel of the year, for me, has to do with more than just seasonal changes; it has to do with deeply personal changes as well.  Anyone in tune with nature may inherently understand this.  (Really FEELING the seasons was one thing I sorely missed when living in the tropical climate of Florida for six years).  The wheel of MY year is as follows:

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State Arboretum of VA

Spring – Spring is the time for rebirth in nature.  It is the season for spotting baby wildlife and daffodils pushing their way through cold, stubborn soil.  Personally, it is also the season for burgeoning ideas.  This is the time I take stock of what worked and didn’t work for my library program over the course of the school year, as well as in my personal life, and I begin to plan.

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Orlando, FL

Summer – During summer, nature is in full swing.  All animals, birds, and bugs (eww) are out and about.  The weather permits all sorts of outdoor activity and the mood is generally festive.  Summer, for many, is a season for action.  During the summer, if I am not working, I usually take some type of class or try something new.  (Last summer it was stand-up paddle boarding!)

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Long Lake, NY

Fall – Fall is the harvesting season.  We reap the benefits of the previous year’s hard work.  The leaves begin to burst forth with amazing colors, wilt, and then drop to the ground.  The animals begin to forage in preparation for the cold.  Fall, with the beginning of the new school year is a time for letting go of everything, both good and bad, in preparation for the new.  (New backpack, new notebooks, new attitude)

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Sag Harbor, NY

Winter – The trees are bare.  The air is chill.  The birds are silent.  Fauna is in hibernation.  This used to be the toughest month for me, as I so love the outdoors and sun on my face.  But as we humans are forced inside and out of the elements, winter becomes a time for introspection and HYGGE.  Instead of sunshine, there is candlelight and fireplaces, warm blankets and hot tea.  For me, winter is the easiest season during which to meditate.  With the holidays it is also the time to make a marked effort to reconnect with family and friends who may have been neglected during the bustle of the other seasons.

To conclude, as we yearn for those last days of school leading to summer, be mindful of the natural and personal changes occurring throughout the wheel of the year.  (Well… we can be a LITTLE psyched for the beach!)

Library Hygge

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Ah, hygge…  The Danish term for me conjures images of a fireplace, a steaming mug of hot chocolate, the purring of my cats, and a soft blanket.  I only just recently took into consideration the hygge of my library.  I am truly blessed to work in an absolutely wonderful space.  Looking beyond it’s functionality, I notice the way the sun shines through the windows and illuminates the stacks, the charming student artwork carefully displayed, the cozy seating areas with beanbag chairs.  

Hygge though, by definition, is more than just a cozy appearance.  It is also a mindset and an attitude and the reason that the Danish are “the happiest people on earth.”  In order to create a true atmosphere of hygge, I need to be mindful in my communication with students in order to ensure that the space is not merely pleasant or attractive, but welcoming and warm.

Why is this important?  The life of a child nowadays is stressful; I daresay a good bit more so than when I was a young lass.  My library is the one place in school where students aren’t being graded.  There is no pressure here.  Kids who enter need to be welcomed with a warm smile and an open heart (before they are accosted for a hall pass!)  

Discovering Hygge in Montauk

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Montauk Manor, NY
Here it is.  This may be the word that changes everything for me.  The word “mindfulness” seemed to work and attracted a lot of attention but the thing I have been grappling for has a different name.  And that name is hygge.  There is no exact, English equivalent to the Danish term.  “Cozy” comes close but hygge is more than just a fuzzy pair of socks. Hygge describes an intense level of contentment, comfort, connectedness, and most importantly, gratitude.  Hygge is not, however, about excess, or accomplishment.  Based on my readings, it is mindfulness at it’s best; the appreciation of a moment.

During a two day vacation in Montauk with the boyfriend, I have been meditating on this term, deciding what it means specifically to me, and searching for the hygge in every experience.  In short, being mindful about “hyggeness.”

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A little too chilly for the boyfriend…
It started this morning.  I woke up and drew back the curtains of our cozy suite revealing a picture-perfect sunrise.  Warm, fresh coffee in hand, I braced myself against the chilly, April morning by wrapping myself in a blanket.  Sanford smiled over at me and for a while we just sat in silence, appreciating the serenity.  For breakfast, we opted for a cozy little spot in town.  Upon opening the door, the smell of hash browns, eggs, and waffles enveloped us like a hug.  We were seated in the center of the place and I couldn’t help but notice the amount of small children there with their families.  It was heartwarming.  The vibe was sleepy, serene, and, well, “cozy.”  On first bite of my veggie omelet, I acknowledged the thoughts swirling in my head and focused on the moment.  Mindfulness plus hygge equals bliss…