In 2004, I received one of those phone calls everyone dreads. At that time, I was living in Japan and my husband and I just had our first child. Our baby boy Eli was just 6 months old. The call relayed information about my father, Allan Kenneth Steele. He had suffered a massive stroke and was retaining fluids. He wasn’t doing well at all and I knew that I had to deal with the fact that this would be his swan song. My husband booked an emergency flight back to Canada to go and see my father not knowing how much longer he was going to be able to fight on. I managed to arrive in time and had 12 hours with him in the hospital room along with my dad’s sister, my beloved Aunt marjorie.
My sister, her husband and my two younger brothers were also present during this difficult time. It was here that we all experienced immense pain. As you can imagine, it felt like a cleaver permanently stuck in your heart but we managed to laugh between those incredibly tough moments. It was the comic relief that helped us get through that incredibly difficult time.
My dad loved the power of laugher and was often caught many a time, cracking up the sales lady, the mechanic at the gas station and strangers he came across in his life. He was extremely generous in this way of sharing his joy. As a young girl, I was impatient and when my dad would chat away sharing his jokes, we were sometimes left waiting restlessly ready to move on. I believe it is only now, years later that I have come to understand him better and see that I can be quite similar to him at times.
Reminiscing about my dad, I vividly remember him saying that people who didn’t laugh (at least at his jokes) had full frontal lobe deficiency. It didn’t matter what occasion it was, my father always enjoyed sharing a smile and making others chuckle. When my husband and I first moved overseas my father would call me regularly and every time we spoke, he had a new joke to share. Even when he was repeating a joke that I had already heard, I still managed to laugh over the phone. Oh, how I miss his voice and would love to hear a few of his familiar jokes. Today would have been my father's 80th birthday. How I wish that he was here with us still.
Laughter and Teaching
A few weeks ago there was a day that my students seemed to be having a tough morning that was full of challenges. The mood was a bit sombre and serious, so I decided to show them a few funny videos. After I asked the students to share what they noticed about their feelings and sensations in their body after watching these hilarious videos and they were keen to share their thoughts.
Some of their responses included:
All the bad stuff that happened today went away.
I feel full of energy.
My face hurts from laughing.
I feel light.
The power of laughter is undeniably healing.There is a quote somewhere that says the average person laughs about 15 times a day and the average preschooler laughs over 400 times a day. There are some days that I take things too seriously and I’m sure that on these days that my genuine laughs are few and far between. This week, I aim to be an over achiever and to find little delights of humor and fun to bring about genuine laughs and joy.
So this week take note;
How many times do you laugh a day?
Do you laugh at yourself?
Who do you laugh with?
How often do you share your joy of laughter?
Who brings laughter into your life?
Do you surround yourself with people who make you laugh and feel joy?
How often do you goof around?
Remember we all need a big dose of silly every day to keep the joy alive. Laughter heals! That's one thing that everybody needs to better understand, including myself. Aim to add more joyous laughter into to your day, every day this week.
Remember to be silly, connect with joy and laughter and remain present.
Gallivanting around the globe with my family has always been an experience that makes me feel excited. There is the art of people watching at airports, the buzz of the train stations and that big audible sigh of relief when you arrive at your destination. Over the years, I have come to realize that I favor places that are slightly chaotic and full of character versus sanitized and impersonal. The adrenaline rush of having a break from our everyday routines, in a different part of the world still gives me such a thrill.
Travel takes us out of our normal daily routines and away from our list of things to do. Somehow when we leave home we notice things with newfangled eyes and it is such a delight.
What I love about traveling is that it brings about a new awareness, you begin to experience new smells, tastes, sounds and all of your senses are on high alert as you step out of the comfort zone of your day to day patterns. Immediately you are more alert to the experiences, you pause to notice the diversity and what is beautiful. You note this awareness when seemingly unexpected things happen that point you in a particular direction with incredible surprises.
When you travel mindfully you have to remember to be very flexible, it is not all picture perfect post card moments. There are unplanned delays, queues, and bumpy rides. In addition to being flexible in your attitude, you'll also need to pack a willingness to receive help and support from strangers along the way. All of this is a part of the adventure and, as always, the things that go wrong make for even better stories to share with friends and family upon your return home. I’d say through all the undulations of traveling, being mindful is a practice, and I am always striving to be present to all the pleasures of traveling, both positive and negative.
I’ll leave you with the opening verse of Van Morrison’s These are the days.
The lyrics emphasize the simple act of appreciation in life is to be rooted in the present moment: “These are the days, the time is now. There is no past, there’s only future.There’s only here, there’s only now.”
Be mindful, savor your days and be present to the pleasures in your life.
“Meeting a stranger can be totally fleeting and meaningless, for example, unless you enter the individual’s world by finding out at least one thing that is meaningful to his or her life and exchange at least one genuine feeling. Tuning in to others is a circular flow: you send yourself out toward people; you receive them as they respond to you.”
In one of my first blog posts, I wrote about the tapestry of experiences that my family and I are creating as we have been living overseas now for 15 years. Each country has added to this enormous experience and our latest threads have been woven in lovely Nanjing, China. It’s been nearly four years now since we arrived in China. Like everything with it’s impermanence, our lives and our narratives flow up and down.
Sometime around the spring of 2013, during my morning runs, I would often cross paths with a much older Chinese man. At first sight I was always very interested in this man because he would be power walking along the same route, up and down a long street, sporting nothing but shorts and a bronzed glow of a tan. I was very curious about him, but would just run past nodding casually, and then continue on my jog.
At some point we began waving and saying hello. It became a sort of ritual to see him at the same spot during my runs. If he didn’t show up, I’d finish my runs wondering what happened. I would think was he sick or did he change his schedule.
I hadn’t seen him for quite some time, but a while after that while walking home from school, I saw him. I was determined to ask him his name so I went up to him to chat. Surprisingly he spoke English and his name was Alian Wong. As we talked, I learned a little bit more about him. He was born in 1930 and it turns out he has walked 7.5 kilometers every day for the past 30 years. He not only spoke English and Chinese but Russian too. He spends his time between Russia and Nanjing.
It had been a while since I last saw him, but today as my husband and I were walking our dog, I saw him again. I was so excited I bolted over to him to say hello. How nice it was to see him again after such a long hiatus.
In our past chats, he has shared that he walks to clear his mind and stay active. He made me aware that his practice of walking is good for his mind. The action that Alian takes each day is very mindful in nature. It reminds me of the importance of mindful walking. Being aware of each step we take, how we place our feet with every stride, and how we connect our breath to these movements. Although Alian and I never spoke about mindfulness, I truly believe that he exemplifies mindful walking every time he steps out of his house to begin his ritual of daily power walking.
I’m happy to have connected with him and look at moments like this being, as Deepak Chopra says in the quote above, “circular flow”. The importance of finding meaning in exchanges like this can be so special without ever really realizing it.
Meeting up with Alian Wong again today inspired me to set my #MindsetMonday challenge this week on devoting more time to mindful walking. I plan to take any free moments at school this week to mindfully walk around the running track to clear my mind and re-energize myself during the busy day. I look forward to this challenge.
'Strive to stay active, breathe, and clear your mind this week with a mindful walk.'
"Our mental health and well-being are profoundly affected by where and how we place our thoughts and attention”.
The quote above was borrowed from a Ted Talk on mindfulness given by Richard Burnett. Although I watched this Ted Talk over a year ago for the first time, I decided to check it out again this past weekend as there are many meaningful messages about mindfulness presented.
My #mindset Monday challenge last week was about practicing self-compassion and honoring how we honestly feel. It can be commonplace to let negative thought patterns slowly creep in and out of our lives. These thought patterns not only drain our batteries of the necessary energy to keep us going, but can directly result in causing us to feel physically unwell.
Since practicing mindfulness with regularity in my life, I’ve become more aware of when these negative thought patterns begin to appear. Whenever I observe these thoughts beginning to take hold, I pause, breathe, acknowledge and accept them but do not allow them to run me over. I simply let them pass while taking a few strong breaths. The Richard Burnett quote above holds so much truth. Our mental health and well being really are profoundly shaped by where we allow our thoughts and attention to roam.
If you had to evaluate your own thought patterns, how would you assess yourself in regards to where you place your thoughts and attention? When work responsibilities pile up, do you begin to shift more toward a negative mindset? At times, in the past, this has happened to me. However, I no longer allow being busy to push me down the path of negativity. Instead I choose to look at it as a challenge that requires me to boost my levels of focus and concentration. Being mindful of how I choose to internalize busyness in my life, has allowed me to become more productive in my personal and professional life.
In Charles F. Haanel’s 'The Master Key System' written in 1912 he states,
“If the state of our health is not all that could be desired, let’s first examine our thinking. Remember that every thought produces an impression on the mind. Every impression is a seed that sinks into the unconscious and forms a tendency. The tendency will be to attract other similar thoughts and these will manifest into conditions.”
My #mindset Monday challenge this week is to practice discipline in being more aware and mindful of where and how I choose to place my thoughts and attention. Mindfulness is a skill that requires determination and grit. So with this intention, from my early morning runs, my walks to and from school, my interactions with my family, colleagues, students, and when life’s little stressors creep into various moments throughout each day, I will ask myself the following questions:
Where are your thoughts? What are you creating with these thoughts? Where is your attention? Is this what you would like to focus on? Are you aware of your breath? Are you present?
Without a doubt, I know that this mindset will have a positive impact on my well-being and mental health this week. Excited to start my beautiful week and jump out of bed tomorrow.
Be thoughtful, be present and strive to look to the good.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily