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

Coincidence?

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You wake up one morning and recall a dream in which an old high school friend, whom you haven’t spoken to in years, plays a central role. (Let’s call her Mayra.)  The same morning, on the way to work, you turn on the radio and catch an old, unpopular song that you and Mayra once sang at a karaoke party.  Later that day, you get a Facebook alert that it is Mayra’s birthday.  Is it mere coincidence?  Maybe.  Moving mindfully through life though, I seem to be encountering more and more incidences of coincidences, or phenomena perhaps better termed, synchronicity.

According to Dictionary.com, a coincidence is, “A striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.”  The same site defines synchronicity as, “The simultaneous occurrence of causally unrelated events and the belief that the simultaneity has meaning beyond mere coincidence.”  This last part regarding the meaning of such events has been my latest big topic of interest.  Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, refers to synchronicity as “meaningful coincidence” and “acausal parallelism.”  Could the dream, the song, and the alert have been just an interesting fluke?  Mere chance?  Or perhaps something more?

In his book, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, Deepak Chopra states, “Coincidences are not accidents but signals from the universe which can guide us toward our true destiny.”  He writes of something called “Synchrodestiny,” which can be reached by “accessing a place deep within yourself, and [by paying] attention to the coincidences outside.”  As mindful meditation and mindful living practices both involve digging deep within, nonjudgmentally, and living fully in the present moment, it would only make sense that the more I practice, the more I find what seem like hidden messages coming to the forefront of my consciousness and spurring me to action.  

We have all heard the phrase millions of times: follow your gut.  This is infinitely easier to do when you are unburdened by unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Intuition, in the form of a hunch, coupled by signs and connections from the outside world, shouldn’t be ignored.  A relative of mine who lives far away had been on my mind for a few days.  Flipping through a magazine, I came across an article about his hometown.  I followed my gut and picked up the phone.  He happened to be in crisis and so grateful for my call.  Apparently, “coincidentally,” I had the answer to a problem he had been struggling with for some time.  30453989-.jpg

Things like this force one to question the nature of life altogether.  Are our lives parts of some big master plan?  Is there another force at work here? Quantum Theory does suggest that everything in the universe is connected.  As you move mindfully through YOUR life, try paying attention to coincidences and seek out the deeper significance of every encounter.  Every person who crosses your path, whether it be brief or long-term, can leave you with valuable insight if you pay attention.  Whether you believe in guardian angels, spirit guides, God, “The Force,” or none of the above, through mindful attention, you may find that the universe is trying to tell you something.  Listen.

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.

 

For Mindful Parents/Teachers: The First Days of School

The faint chill in the air, the hints of yellows and reds in the trees, the first flights of flocks of fully-grown geese… AND the push and shove of antsy parents scrambling for that last orange, plastic, three-hole binder at Target can mean only one thing…

TIME FOR SCHOOL!!!!   

Now add the letter from central administration inviting you to Superintendent’s Conference Day, along with a roster of new student names.  When you are a teacher as well as a parent, this time of year rouses a host of emotions that run the gamut from psyched, to terrified, to relieved, to depressed.  How to manage???  Mindfulness, of course.  To be mindful is to pay focused attention to yourself in your surroundings in the present moment, while non-judgmentally observing your mental, physical, and emotional states.  By doing this, we can significantly improve our attitudes and reactions (both internal, and external) and in turn, positively impact those around us.  And the people around us who matter the most during back-to-school time are very important people indeed: our children and our students.  

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It Starts With Us

Improving our world begins as an ‘inside job’.  In order to provide the much needed love, care, and support to kids in a time of such flux, we first need to take stock of our own well-being.  Only then can we can effectively apply mindful communication techniques in our interactions with these fragile, little beings.

The challenge for me, as a parent and teacher at the end of a summer vacation is that for the past two months, mindfulness practice was easier.  My responsibilities were limited.  I was able to unplug from my devices without fear of missing something important (see Beating Tech Overload).  I was able to sleep until my body was ready to wake (most mornings, anyway).  This didn’t mean I stayed in bed awake and too lazy to move, but having the discipline to climb out of bed just as my eyes were naturally opening (NOT at the blare of an alarm). For me, this is the BEST time for mindfulness practice, as it truly sets the tone for the day.  We were particularly blessed this year to have really mild weather, so there were plenty of mindful walks.  It isn’t too difficult to be truly in the moment when your moment is watching the sun set over the water at the beach.

Strategies for Keeping the Mindful Momentum

Start mornings with a to-do list, then put it to the side.  This will eliminate the worry and fear of forgetting something important, enabling you to focus fully on the task at hand.  In order to live and work mindfully you need to shed notions about the supposed benefits of multitasking.  I attended a workshop with Cory Muscara (The Long Island Center for Mindfulness) during which he said that we only ever have one email in our inbox; the one we are currently reading.  If you are short on sleep and didn’t have the morning time to meditate, take just three minutes at your desk to focus on nothing but your breathing.  Take frequent breaks to walk.  Keep sneakers in your car and weather permitting, walk during lunch.  When times are stressful, I know I tend to overeat and reach for carbs.  Avoid this by planning ahead.  Keep healthy snacks in your desk (nuts, seeds, and protein bars).  Most of all, have faith that everything will get done!  Worrying and stressing will not slow time: it will only impede your ability to effectively function.

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Most Importantly…

As stressed and anxious as YOU might feel, think about the kids with such limited life experience, and the literal and figurative smallness many will feel upon crossing the threshold of the classroom.  For many it is a joyful, optimistic time filled with new sneakers, fresh pencils, curiosity, and new adventures with friends.  Sadly though, and often invisibly, for some it is a reprieve from loneliness and hurt, or a source of extreme anxiety.  Being mindful of our own well-being will better equip us for the the challenge of helping these students.  And don’t neglect the emotional needs of your own kids.  Project an aura of calm, maintain a relaxing and reassuring bedtime routine, and LISTEN to any fears or concerns they might express.

Be mindful and truly enjoy this transformative and wonderful time of year!

Mindfulness, the Ultimate “Stay-cation”

I began my personal mindfulness practice by carving out time during my day, usually first thing in the morning, for mindful meditation.  From there, I discovered the added benefits of moving meditation such as mindful walking (or more specifically, “forest bathing,” which is like a mindful hike in nature).  From the get-go, these activities positively impacted my stressful workdays and family life.  The result was a calmer, more relaxed reaction to the things that would normally rattle me.

Reading further about the benefits of mindfulness in education (hence my “mindful library”) and in everyday life, I recognized the potential for a substantially better way of living with even more freedom from worry, stress, regret, and so on.  The result is that now I try my best to apply mindful attention to every situation and interaction.  Although I’m not able to perform a brain scan or any other sort of testing on myself, I can attest to favorable physical and mental change based solely on experience.  I’m sleeping better. I’m thinking more clearly. I have more energy overall…  What I hadn’t considered though, was the intense level of emotional benefit of living with mindful attention.  

Now, what is often our first thought when everyday stresses begin to wreak havoc on our emotional well-being??  The answer particularly applies to educators, who drag their weary bodies through the muck of end-of-school-year chaos, counting the days until summer break with an intensity rivaling that of their students…

I NEED A VACATION!  

This was my thinking several months ago when I booked a trip with my friend to Anna Maria Island, off the gulf coast of Florida.  I had been there once before, a few years ago, when running off to a beautiful, quiet, tropical island seemed like the only real remedy for an emotional pitfall.  At that time, it was pure escapism.  And I will admit that while laying on the picturesque white sand, watching the sunset like something out of a dream,I did in fact feel calm, relaxed, connected, peaceful and free.  I sensed a shift.  BUT ALAS… there was the fateful flight a few days later, back to JFK airport.  Like the flick of a switch, the ache in my stomach and general sense of heaviness was back.  Heading home those years ago (pre-mindfulness), the bliss wore off.

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This time, however, the trip was different.  I discovered the truest perk of mindful living.  While strolling along the familiar white sand to the backdrop of what I daresay was an even more ethereal sunset, my friend leaned toward me and asked, “How do you feel now?”  A fellow teacher, he booked the trip with the same escapist, “get me out of here,” and “I need a vacation from it all” mentality that I had had years prior.  I could see his relaxed posture, soft smile, and easy gait and knew he was experiencing that zenful shift.  Then I paused to check in with myself.

I came to the awesome realization that I didn’t feel much different than when I left the “longer island” I call home.  For some time now, I had been appreciating the beauty in my own backyard.  It may not be a sight that people would pay for a vacation home to see, but there is real beauty there: a pond with chirping frogs, lush trees with chirping birds, a resident family of geese that I have watched mature from hatch-lings, and some perennials that I lovingly (albeit awkwardly) planted outside my door.  When the school year ended, I simply let the stress of it all simply go.  Nothing more could be done until September, and I didn’t allow nervous thoughts of that time to intrude.  My heart was grateful for all of the blessings in my life, from the simplest little things (my patio view), to the largest (my beautiful sons).  Being in a tropical paradise was wonderful, but honestly, not much better than home, from my newfound perspective.  Now, is my home life perfect?  Uh, no…  Certainly not.  However, I didn’t feel like a huge weight had been lifted, because there wasn’t one to begin with.  Mindful living was enriching my everyday experience to a point where no “escape” was necessary.  

Keep the following question in mind the next time you book a trip or a “mindfulness retreat.”  Which would provide the more enduring mindful living exercise?  Immersing yourself in unfamiliar surroundings that beg the attention of the senses for a limited period of time?  Or learning to focus mindful, grateful attention to the simple beauties we perceive every day?  Which experience would avoid the back-to-the-grind dread of the flight home?

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Space Camp (Part I of II): Mindfully Embracing an Opportunity

The 9th of July had arrived.  My sons and I had just returned to New York from a trip to Florida, and here I was, back at the airport with two jittery students on the beginning of our journey to Huntsville, Alabama for a week of Space Camp.  The first thought that ran through my mind was, “What was I thinking?!”  I could have have spent that week plopped on a beach blanket, dozing to the sound of the ocean waves rolling in and out.  Little did I know that the adventure ahead would shift the way I perceive the oceans, the land, the planet, the cosmos, myself, and all of humankind.  

Believing that there are no coincidences in this life, I knew as we boarded the plane that, fears aside, I should embrace this experience with complete, mindful attention.  After the mindful flight into the deep South, we disembarked our plane and were greeted by a swarm of other teachers and students in matching blue, Northrop-Grumman t-shirts (a sponsoring company for the camp) along with cheerful Space Camp counselors donning the coveted blue space suits and flight jackets with mission patches galore.  Mindfully observing all of these people, their expressions, gestures, conversations, I couldn’t help but absorb their excited energy.  I knew I was in for something interesting, and I was ready.  I winked at my two students, and onto the Space Camp bus we went.

The NASA Space Camp (the genius of Wernher von Braun and Edward O. Buckbee), from just a mere aesthetic perspective, is a breathtaking celebration of human achievement and an awe-inspiring glimpse of our solar system and beyond.  Exiting the bus, the Alabama heat and humidity struck me like a blow.  My students were giddy, but clearly petrified as well.  This is where I was to leave them for the week, as the students attend a camp that is separate from the educator program.  The mommy in me knew what to do.  I pointed to the sci-fi inspired-looking “habitats” in which they would be staying and told them I was insanely jealous, as I’d be staying in a University of Alabama at Huntsville dorm a mile away.  I added that their friends would be envious too, especially when they heard about all of the other cool girls (and potentially cute) boys they would be meeting from around the globe.  They giggled and went on their way, as did I.

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The following morning began with a tour of the campus, which I mindfully took in with all senses.  It was infinitely more impressive than images I remembered from the 1985 Space Camp movie which was my only frame of reference.  The Space Shuttle, Pathfinder, and a number of impressive jets, jut like spires into the sky.  Simulators such as G-Force and Space Shot promised the thrill of experiencing free-falls and 3G of force as the astronauts did.  The A-12 Oxcart stealth jet, so secretive at the time it was not even named, was thrilling to behold.  A scale model of the lunar module in a living diorama of the lunar surface provided a 3 dimensional perspective of the landing as the astronauts perceived it themselves.  A bronze astronaut statue, and even a memorial for Miss Baker, the space monkey (with bananas lovingly placed on top by young fans) roused an amazement in me at the bravery and sacrifice all who made these feats of flight and space exploration possible.

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This experience would have impressed anyone, but bringing mindful attention to the experience provided a different perspective than one I may have had before my shift in awareness.  My device was silenced and used only for the occasional photo.  I wasn’t rude or aloof, but I tried to limit the idle chit chat so I could really focus on my sensory experience.  I focused the bulk of my auditory attention on the counselors who provided the background info for what I beheld with my eyes.  I focused my visual attention on both the grandiose structures like the shuttle and the rockets, as well as the minutia, like the smaller bits that held structures together, the play of sunlight on metallic surfaces, strange plants, birds, and bugs dotting the landscape, and the diversity of the faces around me.  In such surroundings, there was clearly no turning off of thoughts, but I consciously identified and acknowledged how different thoughts made me feel.  I realized that mindfulness during experiences like these not only makes for a more enriching experience, but plants experiences in our long-term memory more completely than any photograph.

*STAY TUNED FOR – Space Camp (Part II of II):  Mindful Communication and Collaboration at Space Camp for Educators

 

Mindful Flight

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Are you travelling this summer?  Jetting off to some exotic locale, or maybe just visiting family and friends?  Whatever you are doing, if there is flying involved, chances are your thoughts and emotions about the trip run the gamut.  When I talk to people in my circuit about the anticipation of the experience there is a lot of moaning and groaning…  Complaints about the lines at the airport, heavy luggage, the boring wait at the gate, etc.  And when reflecting back on the flight, it is the common narrative about cramped seating, annoying families, turbulence, long taxis on the runway… the list goes on.

This summer, when I ventured to the airport with my two sons to embark on the voyage to Florida to see my mom, I turned the usually grueling experience into a most-mindful one.  As I am learning more and more each day, the attitude that you bring to any situation is what makes or breaks the experience.  The same goes for the oft-dreaded experience of the family flight.

The first factor of the family flying experience to be addressed is the crowds.  There is the hustle and bustle and waiting on lines at the airport to consider.  Instead of feeling annoyed by the presence of the other passengers, really look at them.  See them.  Try to imagine where they might be going and why.  Observe their demeanor and sense their energy.  Maybe they are venturing somewhere in search of adventure, maybe they are escaping something awful, maybe they are surprising someone they love, or maybe they are heading somewhere to mourn.  Sense the warmth of the happy travelers and send healing energy (or if it is your thing, pray) for the ones who seem to be suffering.

Next is to turn the physical experience of the plane and the flight into a mindful one.  Barring extreme claustrophobia, it isn’t too difficult to focus your attention away from the cramped quarters.  Just close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing, relax your muscles, and let yourself melt into the seat.  When the plane has found its position on the runway, appreciate the speed of the plane on the ground just before liftoff…  faster than any car.  When the plane tilts upward and you are airborne, feel your back sink even deeper into the seat and truly appreciate the miracle for what it is.  You are flying!  Picture your body, without the plane and the passengers, moving alone through the air at that speed.  Look out the window at the shrinking landscape and appreciate the privilege of this view which should technically belong only to the birds.  Appreciate the largeness of the world and your small place in it.  And finally, appreciate the amazing human collaboration that created a technology which could make such a thing possible.  To our ancestors this would be nothing short of magic.

And now to tackle the landing.  For me, this is always the most terrifying part of the flight.  If you feel the same, just close your eyes and breathe through it.  When the plane touches down and slows to a comfy speed, ready to taxi to the gate, feel genuine gratitude for the safe journey and for all of the blessings in your life.  (Thank God, if you like.)  Then try to envision the distance your body has just traveled and appreciate that miracle one again.  And finally…, most importantly…, when the lady behind you finally apologizes for her child kicking the back of your seat during the entire flight, breathe in, breathe out, smile, and say, “No worries.  It was like a free back massage!” then send her a little positive energy.  She may need it for her week at her cranky in-laws’!

Beating Tech Overload

I was watching my children “watching” television the other day.  The cacophony was ridiculous.  The show was blasting and each of my two sons were simultaneously watching sports videos on their phones.  This was the complete and utter opposite of mindfulness.  Ugh…  Try as I do to make my sons unplug, all too often the din of the TV is the background noise of our lives at home.  Now that summer vacation is officially less than a week away, I am going to attempt to alter not only my children’s digital behavior, but my own as well.  Here is the plan of attack.

1.   Absolutely no electronics for at least an hour before sleeping.  I usually do read before bed, but I’d be lying if I said I never got lost on online shopping shopping sights well into the wee hours.  It is proven that the blue light given off by LED screens disrupts your body’s circadian rhythms, which tell the body it is time for sleep.  And your brain registers pixelated text differently than ink text on a book page.

2.  Physically leave the phone in one spot of the house.  I have gotten into the habit of literally schlepping the thing from room to room which is just so very unmindful. I even have multiple chargers in various locations throughout the house.  The mere presence of the phone is a distraction.  At work I leave it out on my desk which is another bad habit.  In one room it will stay!

3.   Absolutely NO devices during meals.  This will be a tough one to enforce, but I am determined.  In order to get the kids away from the television, I plan to serve our meals outside as often as possible.  We have a cozy patio with a pond view that is perfect.  This leads to the next plan…

4.    Get into nature as often as possible, WITHOUT the phone.  Now even though I don’t often use the phone to answer calls and go onto social media when I am out hiking, I do like to take lots of pictures with my phone. Snapping nature shots, although awesome, can detract from the mindful outdoor experience somewhat.  After each shot, I must make sure to pause and take in the scene with my own two eyes, with accompanying sounds and subtle movements.  (As far as my sons are concerned, this may involve physically locking them outdoors.  Wish me luck!)

5.  Turn off social media alerts.  I will schedule the time to check up on my friends’ latest Facebook posts.  I refuse to let it consume my days.  It is rare that any real, significant info comes through there.  All of those postings about people’s latest meals and travels can surely wait!

6.   Carefully evaluate the usefulness of the time I am connected.  I was more than just a little horrified at the amount of time I spent on online browsing, without even shopping.  Eww!  And Pinterest…

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Now don’t get me wrong.  I am a huge fan of technology and have the utmost appreciation for the novel ways we can stay connected with friends, and forge new connections with people we’d never encounter in person (I am a blogger, after all), but when the mindless surfing and constant distractions interfere with our ability to be present, subtle changes have to be made.  I am grateful to be in a profession that affords me time to unplug and unwind.  Happy summer, all!

Grief and Mindfulness

The untimely death of a colleague, followed by that of a student a few days later, have been the source of profound suffering in my school district this week.  This has led me to ponder the connection, if any, between grief and mindfulness.

Mindfulness for me has always been associated with acceptance; acceptance of what was, is, and will be, without judgement.  This seems a simple enough principle to follow but how does one practice mindfulness when the unacceptable happens?  Can mindfulness actually help during times of extreme grief?  I’ve concluded that it can.

Accept Feelings

The first and foremost act of mindfulness should be acceptance, NOT of the situation or loss, but of the grief itself.  Mindfulness is not the shutting down of thoughts or the turning off of emotions, and therefore one must not merely acknowledge their grief but really sit with it without trying to repress, judge, or deny it.  People experience the various stages of grief in their own order and overcome them in their own time.  There is no “right” or “wrong” way to move through grief.

Check In, Physically

Through mindful meditation, check in to gauge how your emotions are affecting you physically.  Through careful attention and self-awareness, one can usually pinpoint where emotional pain resides in the body and therefore send love and healing energy there (this is a Reiki practice that anyone can do for themselves with some focused attention).  

Connect

Compassion and connection are necessary components for true mindfulness practice.  When we aren’t meditating, mindfulness requires that we give our surroundings and the people we encounter, our full, nonjudgmental attention so we can understand them and share loving kindness.  When we experience profound grief our instinct may be to seek solitude, but it is necessary during these times that we seek compassion from others and stay connected, particularly with those who may sympathize with our grief.  At the very least, attempt to connect on psychic or spiritual levels (whichever you believe).

Help

In addition to maintaining connections with others, one of the most (if not the most) powerful acts on our road to healing is in helping others.  Even small, random acts of kindness, like assisting an elderly neighbor with groceries, can fill a wounded heart.  Helping others is part of our life’s purpose, therefore doing it brings meaning and purpose to our lives.  This is soothing when we may question the very meaning of life during times of grief and loss.

Acknowledge Impermanence

Mindfulness, is by its nature a “practice” because it is not something that can be achieved once and held forever.  This is because what is now, is changing every minute.  The only constant in this universe is change.  Truly acknowledging impermanence can be profoundly helpful during times of grief.  As I have stated earlier, one should never put a time limit on one’s grief, nor should they suppress it, but the simple knowledge that “this too shall pass,” offers the promise that no matter how distant, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

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.