“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”
I am an asthmatic. I am also a runner. I went out strong, full of gusto and ploughed through the start of my run because I wanted to be productive today and check the run off my list. ‘Run done!’ is what I wanted to shout as I retuned home. As a runner, I set goals to keep me on track. This year my goal is to run a half marathon, a total of 21 kilometers, on the Great Wall of China.
In the middle of my run this morning, I realized that I had forgotten my inhaler. My breath became tight and wheezy. About 3 kilometers into the run, I had to slow my pace right down to a walk. I made a conscious decision to relax and focus on every breath in order to conserve my energy. Even though my breath was tight and wheezy, I mentally chose relaxation over tension and anxiety. Staying present and aware, I noted every breath, slowly and consciously as I made my way back to the house where we were staying at so I could retrieve my inhaler.
Even though my goal was to complete a long, hard run, I realized it’s New Year’s Eve here in Hiroshima, Japan and it reminded me of the resolutions, targets, and goals that people make on an annual basis. Yes, my goal was to complete my run today, but I didn’t do it. In the face of being unable to achieve this goal, I was able to stay present, mindful, and aware when I realized I had forgotten my inhaler. Normally this would really worry me and anxiety and tension would set in making it only worse.
It is not always just about checking off and completing things, but more about staying connected to the sensations in your body at any given time. In my case, it was literally focusing on the breathe. Shifting our attitudes more from keeping our eye on the prize to keeping our eye on the present moment makes me believe more and more that the present moment is the prize. It’s what matters most and focusing on the present moment allows us to take in and savor all that it has to offer.
As you begin the blitz of creating your new year goals, instead of keeping your eyes on the end product or whatever it is that you are trying to do to in order to live your best life, be more mindful of your daily opportunities to stay present and in the moment. Aim to be as physically, mentally and emotionally strong as you can in order to tackle each glorious day as it unfolds for you in 2015.
As this is the last day of 2014, I’m so very grateful for the wonderful year we have had, but the reality is that 2015 is now upon us. The events, experiences, pleasures, and challenges are yet to unfold. However, I sincerely hope that the oscillations of 2015 will be mindful moments that help me continue to learn, love, grow, and discover. I wish only the same for each and every one of you reading this blog post.
After all, we only truly have this moment.
Be patient, be present and practice being in this moment.
The Guess Who game. Are you familiar with it?
You begin with 2 players. Each player has a panel of 24 profile pictures flipped up and visible right in front of you. The other player has the exact same dashboard with the same images. You choose one person secretly and your opponent has to ask you, yes or no questions such as "Does this person have a mustache?" in order to eliminate the candidates allowing you to determine which specific person your opponent has selected.
Now apply the concept of Guess Who’s dashboard, to mentally imagine your personalized panel of all the people around the world that you know and love. From a bird’s eye view above looking down on the world, imagine these people below in whatever country or region they may be spread out.
This is a mindfulness strategy that I created a few years back and practice with regularity as it helps me to positively visualize sending as much love and care that I can out to the people who matter to me.
To begin this mindfulness practice, from a bird’s eye view of the world above, I begin to scan my way slowly around the globe. As the world passes by below me, I specifically visually whomever it is I am closely connected with, a distant friend, relative, or even someone I have just briefly come into contact with who may have made a difference in my life. I visualize their face on my imaginary 'guess who' panel and send them love and positive energy. I take a breath to allow their images to sink in and then rest their images back down. As I move around the world, a wave of loving, smiling faces appear and disappear. I repeat this process, taking slow breaths in and out until I have gone completely around the globe returning back to my original point of reference.
Sending loving kindness and energy to all those people around the world allows me to receive their energy right back. It reminds me of one of my mother’s favorite sayings ‘The more you give the more you receive’. This mindfulness exercise affirms that I am special to others and they too are so special to me. It is a beautiful way to remember that you are loved from near and far.
Stay well, breathe and remember that you are loved.
One Christmas many years ago, before my husband and I had our boys, I remember putting pressure on him and demanding that things be a certain way for this special day. Stressed out, I incessantly nagged him. I wanted the holiday to be perfect and without any mess ups. Having heard enough, he finally shot back with “Every day is Christmas, why do we need to place such a massive significance on this one day?”.
I can vividly recall that moment because he made me realize that every day should indeed be special. Since then I no longer feel the ups and downs of anxiety I once did about the end of the year holidays and I’ll share why it has vanished forever.
Holiday blues used to set in immediately after the big event. Like mulled wine, I was content to simmer slowly with a steady focus on all that I didn’t have instead of all that I did have. In the meantime, I was merely counting down the days until the next major vacation or special celebration. For years now, my husband Andy and I have put forth a great effort to practice gratitude with regularity in our lives. We have passed on and share this practice with our two young boys, Eli and Tai.
Every night, as a family, we give thanks and share what the highlights of our day have been. It mostly ends with the same 3 Fs (family, friends and food). Even on days that have been challenging, we find something to be grateful for (even those dirty dishes in the kitchen remind of how lucky we are to have access to good food as many people do not have this luxury).
We scan our days for even the tiniest of things to be grateful for. If one of our boys is not genuinely in the mood to do this, he simply listens to the rest of us list off our inventory of grateful moments. At the end of the day it’s quite easy to be fatigued and frustrated but this one moment always manages to swing us into a different perspective. Having read Charles Duhigg’s, The Power of Habits, he says ‘What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while.” So making this simple practice a daily habit has helped to remind us just how special each day can be. Without question Christmas and other festive celebrations remain important to our family, but it’s focusing on the little delights in daily living which have helped to change our philosophy and give us a more healthy perspective. Being grateful and present is all a part of becoming more mindful.
Focus on the good in your life now, give gratitude, and strive to be happy.
My family walked throughout Hiroshima Peace Park and visited the A-bomb memorial museum yesterday. During the time my husband and I lived in this city from 1997-2007, we would often take friends and family who were visiting us from abroad to peace park. It’s not hard to notice the tranquil atmosphere that invisibly veils the A-bomb dome and the park itself as you wander through.
It doesn’t matter how many times I have been through this park, I always become choked up with emotion. The message of peace that the city of Hiroshima is trying to convey to the world is an incredibly powerful one. The photo to the left, taken by our son Tai yesterday, is particularly moving as it shares the story of Sadako, a 13-year old A-bomb victim who died at the age of 13 from radiation exposure. She attempted to fold 1000 paper cranes during her last few weeks of life in hopes that it would lead to survival. Her story is well known and can be found here.
Today is the 24th of December and for those who celebrate Christmas, many wholehearted wishes of peace and love permeate the festive season. Peace and well-being is such a precious commodity not only during the Christmas season, but all year round. As we approach 2015, I wish for peace within myself, peace within my relationships, and peace within my family. Bringing more peace into my life requires that I actively integrate mindfulness strategies on a regular basis as it provides me with the tools to nurture strength of spirit in times of challenge.
I am currently reading Dr. Amy Saltzman’s book ‘A Still Quiet Place’ which focuses on PEACE practice. She uses PEACE as a mnemonic with each letter representing powerful mindfulness strategies that we can all bring into every day difficulties. I have provided a shortened version below to give you a brief outline of her ideas. For the full version you can visit her site “Still Quiet Place” which can be accessed by clicking the link above.
The practice begins like this:
P is for pause. When you notice things are difficult, physically, emotionally and mentally pause.
E is for exhale and keep lengthening that inhalation and then once again deeply exhale.
A is for acknowledge, accept and allow. Work with your breath to find middle ground, not reacting impulsively.
C is for choose, give yourself time to find clarity, courage, compassion and comedy.
E is for engage. After you have paused, exhaled, allowed and chosen your response you are ready to engage with people, with the situation and life.
Slow down, practice peace and stay present. Merry Christmas.
When we travel, I am always drawn to the little people, the 2 and 3-year-old toddlers in the crowds. They are so adorable. What I notice is their sweet sense of utter curiosity, how they laugh and clap their hands when they see an airplane in the sky or a fire truck on the street. When my boys were that age we would point out every single crane or truck and say “Wow! Look at that!”. Children, I believe, are naturally mindful about the world around them. They pause, look and investigate all that surrounds them and react with surprise, excitement and delight.
Neil Pasricha’s website is devoted to ‘1,000 awesome things”. In his TED Talk, he talks about awareness and how we should all embrace our own inner 3-year-old. Now, I’m not saying you have to clap your hands and squeal every time you drink your cafe latte, but try bringing a moment of awareness into your day that allows you to pause and reflect on even the smallest of things that may be very routine in nature. For example, when you drink your cup of tea or coffee, hold the cup in both of your hands, feel the temperature in your palms, inhale deeply and take in the aroma. Notice the weight of the cup in your hands and genuinely savor that first sip.
Take a moment of gratitude and think about who made this hot drink for you. Whose energy and effort went into making it? Giving mindfulness a chance brings so many simple joys into our day when we least expect it.
Henry Miller once said, “ The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
Slow down, breathe fully and strive to be present
"Will you look back on your life and say, 'I wish I had, or I'm glad I did?'"
When people inquire about our lives abroad, I always say that we are building a tapestry of experiences for us and for our family. The longest threads of our tapestry so far have been the time that we lived and worked in Japan. Hiroshima was home for Andy and I for a decade. Both our boys, Eli and Tai, were born here and so many memories created. I say 'here' because this is where we have chosen to return for our 2014 Christmas holiday vacation.
Japan holds so many fond memories and I find myself feeling very nostalgic. I know that ruminating about my past here brings up so many joyful memories and sad ones too; the death of my father in 2004 and the passing of Andy's brother 15 years ago today in 1999. Despite some challenging moments, when I think back and without a doubt, I can say that I was genuinely happy here.
Life passes us by so quickly at times that we neglect to realize that these special moments add to the complex combination of experiences that make up our own personal tapestries. Why does it take so long for me to realize this? As much as I try to be present, there are times I forget the importance of bringing mindfulness into my day. I want to be able to say I was there in that moment, fully embracing the ups and downs of whatever it was that I was experiencing at that time.
How does Zig Ziglar's quote above resonate with you as you approach the holidays and time spent with or without your loved ones? Would love to hear your comments below. Slow down, stay well and shine on.
Taking the first steps to launch this blog started over a year ago. There were many conversations with my husband, Andy, on what to share and write about. These tiny little seeds are now beginning to sprout. I want to express how excited and nervous I am to let it begin to germinate. And how grateful I am to have a partner like Andy Vasily as my biggest fan and supporter. I hope to find my voice, to speak my truth quietly and clearly, and to share what I believe to be important, to fuel positivity, health and well-being for all.
My family and I are about to board a plane destined for Hiroshima, Japan. As always, when we settle in and buckle up, the flight attendants proceed to announce the safety instructions. One of the things they initially mention is that it is necessary to 'put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others in the event of an emergency'. Such an important message to take hold of and remember not only while in flight but in our own lives.
As educators we constantly serve others but often fail to remember that we must recharge ourselves in order to continue to be of service to our students and colleagues. How often do we fail to take care of ourselves? This is one of the very first things that I want to share on my mindfulness journey blog. The reminder to take the time to ensure that we look after ourselves is key to having the impact that we desire to have on others.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily