Ruminations

When someone ruminates, they turn something over and over in their mind. They examine it and pick it apart and even obsess a bit about it. They keep thinking about something, coming back to it, getting preoccupied by it long after the conversation or event or mistake has occurred.

I catch myself ruminating over such seemingly small things sometimes. I will be driving my car and realize that I don’t even know what the last song that played was because I was so busy wandering around inside my head. While wandering, I might be rehashing a conversation that I had (hmmm, I wonder what she really meant by that or I wonder if that offended so and so) or beating myself up about a mistake (does so and so think I’m a bad person/mother/friend/coworker now?!). The list could go on.

This past weekend, a loved one brought up something, just jokingly, that happened many months ago, that I have returned to many times on my own and feel powerless to change. I found myself coming back to it hours and even days later. Feeling frustrated to be thinking about it again. Feeling helpless about changing it.

And that really is the crux of it- feeling helpless. When in the throes of rumination, we are so focused on the problem and the many facets and potential effects of our preoccupation that we cannot see out of the fog of negativity that we create. And if we cannot see through the fog, we feel helpless about making change. We are focused on the problem itself rather than problem solving.

So, what do we do to get out of that fog? A potential solution dawned on me this morning, while reading Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. She talks about kleshas, which are basically poisonous mental states that cloud the mind. She describes these kleshas in some detail and then discusses how we deal with them, either by acting out- with a physical or mental attack- or by repressing. She encourages us to find a middle ground between acting out and repressing where we are conscious of our negative thought process and allow ourselves to really feel what lies beneath that negative thought.

This is what I am going to try as a solution. Instead of rehashing the details of a situation and spinning around and around focusing on all of the things I cannot change, I am going to choose to turn that focus to the emotion underneath. I am going to choose to put my energy into understanding why I am so stuck on the thing I’m ruminating over; letting myself feel so that I can see what step to take next more clearly.

 
If you would like to read Pema Chodron’s beautiful book, you can get it here: http://amzn.to/1RpMIs5

Don’t Should On Me.

I really want to ________, but I shouldn’t. I really should be more ________. I tried ________, but I should have known better. I shouldn’t let ________ get to me. We could enter any number of things into these blank spaces. Should is a dangerous word. We use it to measure our perceived shortcomings.

I work as a counselor and the word should often rears its ugly head in conversations with clients. When should is used, the client is often expressing a feeling of inadequacy. They are feeling inadequate because the choices that they have made go against what society or their parent or their best friend agrees with. They are feeling inadequate because they perceive that others are judging them or disappointed by them.

When I think of the times that I use the word should, my experience mirrors what I have observed in conversations with my clients. The word should reflects an expectation, obligation or duty that I do not feel like I am meeting. I use should when I am being critical of myself, and not in a pick me up by my bootstraps motivational kind of way, but in a look at how inadequate I am kind of way.

It is a word that I catch myself and others saying all too frequently. We could all benefit from making a conscious effort to notice what those shoulds are doing, what effect should statements are having on our lives and what emotional baggage they are carrying.

The things that we attach a should to are often things that we aren’t internally motivated to achieve and as a result they are things that we don’t really put our hearts into. This means that the unaccomplished shoulds can really build up and that build up can have a very negative impact on our self-concept and confidence.

Let’s make an effort to eliminate the word should from our vocabulary. We can begin with ourselves. The next time that you catch yourself using the word should, check in to see if you could replace should with want or need. If you can’t, then take a moment to think about why this thing that you don’t want or need is something that you have declared that you should.
The lovely people at Elephant Journal have published an edited version of this post. You can find it here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/03/dont-should-on-me-3-tips-to-get-the-shoulds-out-of-our-lives/

Don’t just see the forest. Let yourself see the trees.

We have all heard the adage that someone couldn’t see the forest for the trees, meaning that we get so wrapped up in the details that we lose perspective and can no longer see the bigger picture. I worry that we get so wrapped up in planning for the future, for that bigger picture, that we lose the beauty of experiencing the details. I am not saying you shouldn’t see the forest, definitely see the forest, the big picture of the forest is undisputedly important. What I am saying is make sure that you also allow yourself to see the trees.

I am a planner. I make lists and do research and create elaborate itineraries. When planning for a recent trip, I was deep into my research process and caught myself. How much time have I spent preparing for this trip? Checking restaurant reviews? Determining the best hotel location? Coming up with a plan and a rainy day plan to be the back-up plan to my plan?

The answer was a big ‘ol bunch of time. When the amount of planning time starts to rival the amount of time that will actually be spent enjoying the trip being planned for, I’d say it is safe to consider it too much time.

I just get so bogged down in details, in striving for perfection, in making sure I’m not missing anything. This travel planning anecdote is just a trivial example, though. I also get bogged down in the details of day to day life. I get so busy focusing on the tasks that need to happen to achieve the end goal of an impeccably kept home that I miss the opportunity to color or read or play hide and seek with my kids right now. I get so busy planning out schedules to make my family’s calendar run smoothly that I miss the enjoyment of the individual items on that calendar; enjoying my daughter’s gymnastics class or watching my children participate in story hour at the library.

I am seeing the big picture forest goals, but I am not always seeing the individual moments of the trees.

I think that we could all benefit from letting ourselves experience, and I mean truly see and enjoy, the trees a bit more. The beauty of life is hiding in the minutia. Let’s be more mindful of the moment that we are in, choosing to interact with our loved ones, stop to appreciate a beautiful sight and, gasp, actually sit and chew and digest. Letting ourselves experience the little moments that are happening to us and around us every second will let us actually connect to the life that we are working so hard to create.

The next time that you find yourself completely wrapped up in planning for a future event or checking things off of your to do list, make a conscious effort to stop and notice what you weren’t noticing in the present moment. The next time you tell your child or loved one to wait a minute, check in to see what is so important that you are putting real-time life on hold. And in those moments, even though you know there is a whole forest out there, stop to appreciate all of the beautiful trees that are the entire reason the forest exists.
An edited version of this post was published by the good people at Elephant Journal. Here’s the link: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/03/dont-just-see-the-forest-let-yourself-see-the-trees/

Through the Eyes of a Child

Are you working to improve your ability to live in the moment? Turns out, there is no guru or speaker or reading list required. Just spend the day with a six year old.

I had the pleasure of spending the whole day alone with my daughter, which is something, because I also have an eight year old son. This phenomena could be observed in the presence of both children, but it is so much more difficult to pause and appreciate while being pulled in two opposite directions and feeling like you forgot your whistle and your black and white polo shirt.

My daughter appreciates everything. “Wow, look at that!”, “Can we go see that?”, and “What’s that? It looks like the Eiffel Tower!?” All that my adult eyes would have seen was the metal structure holding a power line- that’s if I even noticed it at all. The sheer joy at seeing the river and that bird flying overhead and the train that we had to stop and wait for. I need to cultivate that.

She hums when she is really enjoying herself. She hums when she eats; something that she has done since infancy. Every time that I hear her, I stop and think, well first that she is the cutest, but then, if only we could all allow ourselves to get so lost in an experience. So lost and happy that we hum. She lets herself forget everything but what she is doing and truly experience joy. I need to cultivate that.

Books and speakers and inspirational quotes are all great. I’ll keep seeking out all of the knowledge and resources that I can, but my own six year old guru, she’s the real expert.

Noise? What Noise? Thoughts On Applying Pratyahara.

It was an unseasonably nice day yesterday and a warm and inviting evening. The studio windows just begged to be open, but as soon as I opened a window, a truck went by and I had second thoughts about my decision. I turned to the student closest to the window and gave her the option of closing it if the outside noise became a bit much, but my next thought was, maybe the noise is an opportunity.

Pratyahara, or the withdrawing of the senses, in what I see as its simplest form, is moving beyond the noise and distractions that we gather from our senses to turn the focus inward. The street noise gave an opportunity to practice and an opportunity to discuss.

In the discussion, one of the students in class (who also happened to be my mother…) said just remember pratyahara the next time your kids are fighting and whining and screeching. A more challenging task than a little bit of street noise, right? For sure. But also a really valid point.

The practice of pratyahara has so many applications to everyday life. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by distraction, I know that I could benefit from a better ability to turn inward, remove some distraction and awaken my intuitive mind. This is no easy task with the constant technology and sound and flashing light and smells and screeches of everyday life, but we can be more aware of the things that we are letting ourselves be distracted by. We can make an effort to notice when we are mindlessly thumbing through our phone instead of doing what we told ourselves we were about to do. We can give ourselves permission to focus and breathe and do despite the barrage of stimuli that are vying for our attention.

Sometimes I find myself so distracted by the things that are happening around me that it seems like I am struggling to accomplish anything at all. I will set out to complete a task and pick up a new task or twelve along the way; hear an argument and pause to mediate, see a toy in the middle of the floor and stop to grab it, notice that it feels kind of chilly and go adjust the heat, hear a vibration and check a text message, notice a funky smell and pause to take the garbage out, see a red light flashing and check a message. Wait, what was I doing?

While some of the distractions of day to day life may truly be a reason to drop whatever you are doing to deal with them immediately, many, many more of those distractions are certainly not. For me, real life application of pratyahara means working to avoid letting those less pressing distractions have the opportunity to do so much distracting. The world will not stop spinning if I do not immediately answer that message or if I step over that toy in the middle of the floor. These things can certainly wait until I accomplish the task at hand.

Bringing it back to last night’s class, the window remained open for the duration of our practice. Throughout class, I didn’t notice any street noise. The first time that I was reminded of my concern with distraction was as I was holding court over my students in savasana and worried that the noises would be disruptive to them. They all had that blissed out look as we closed our practice, though, so I’m calling it a win. Now to keep that bliss as we get bombarded by distraction outside of the studio space.
An edited version of this post was published by the good people at Elephant Journal. Here’s the link: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/03/noise-what-noise-thoughts-on-applying-pratyahara/

Repeat After Me: No Mud, No Lotus

“No mud, no lotus” – Thict Nhat Hanh

At face value, the lotus flower grows up from the mud, emerging from the murk to bloom. In life’s terms, the work and toil and suffering that we put in are what yield the return, the reward. Certainly there are things that come easy, and, oh, how wonderful that is, but the vast majority of achievements and victories involve first sitting in the mud. And I mean really sitting there, settling in, getting just covered in it.

This sentiment has been stuck in my mind lately. There is so much truth in it. We get so bogged down by the hard, by the suffering that we are going though in our day to day life, that it is sometimes hard to see the potential beauty that we are reaching for. Or the inverse, we see the end result that we want, but we struggle to find the motivation or to take responsibility for the work that we need to do to reach that goal.

I have been making it a conscious practice to let this sentiment play as a mantra in my mind. When I am struggling to take the necessary steps to complete a task- no mud, no lotus. When I am feeling frustrated at a situation with my children or noticing how much work consistency is- no mud, no lotus. When I am avoiding an uncomfortable situation or conversation- no mud, no lotus. When it is difficult to find the motivation to unroll my mat and practice- no mud, no lotus. I have some control over each of these things and stepping back to remind myself of that control, that with my effort and hard work I am moving closer to a goal, it gives me a push to make that forward motion.

This extends beyond a motivator, though. There are many aspects of life that we don’t have nearly as much control over. When facing hard times, coping with a loss, reeling from bad news or recovering from a failure- no mud, no lotus. The sentiment still rings true. Control or no control, when we are sitting in the mud and the muck, we can choose to acknowledge that that mud allows the opportunity for growth. The hard fosters the beauty and the bliss. No mud, no lotus.

For further study, you can purchase Thict Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book here: http://amzn.to/1Ve25Wj
An edited version of this post was published by the good people at Elephant Journal. Here’s the link: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/03/repeat-after-me-no-mud-no-lotus/

Who Am I?

I want to be more…awake, present, mindful. I want to do things with purpose. I want to dedicate more time to what matters and less to what really doesn’t. Ready, GO! This task isn’…

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