A great, go-to podcast that promotes deep learning about mindfulness is 10% Happier with Dan Harris. Dan's list of interviewees includes well-known meditation teachers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and mental health experts from around the world.
A recent Dan Harris interview with Frank Ostaseski, a Buddhist teacher, dives into the importance of creating space and time to reflect at the end of each day. Frank and his wife always ask each other 4 questions before they go to bed:
What or who inspired you today?
What a great way to train your brain to reflect on the outstanding and creative moments in our day. This question will keep you scanning for the exceptional moments in your day
What challenged you today?
Growth and learning requires us to be challenged and knocked out of our comfort zone if we are to deepen our understanding of the things that we need to focus on.
What surprised you today?
Looking at life through a different lens and identifying ‘wow’ moments or times that we were surprised keeps us on point and more aware of those moment-to-moment life experiences throughout the day.
What did you learn about love?
Love comes in many forms. Drawing awareness to these many forms expands our ability to learn something new about love every day.
Daily routines and rituals can and should look differently for each person. The most important things about developing a unique mindfulness practice that addresses your own personal needs is that you take the time to try different things out. See what sticks, analyze what you need to get rid of, and lastly, commit to creating a mindfulness practice that helps to cultivate habits that serve you well each and every day you are blessed to be on this earth. Why not give the above 4 questions a try for just one week. You never know the impact it may have on your life.
There are times that there is an unexplainable heaviness that can descend on us that leaves us feeling confused and unable to figure out why we are wrestling with such emotions. At a gut level, we can totally detect that we are off track and something needs fixing, but cannot figure out exactly what it is that needs to be worked on.
When something is feeling off, chances are high that we may be experiencing some form of being emotionally scrambled. The tendency can be that we just try to disregard these moments and fight through the confusion, but we don’t have to let this be our default setting when dealing with being emotionally scrambled.
Tara Brach, an American psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation, believes that a key strategy for dealing with difficult emotions is to, as she says, “Invite these emotions in to have tea with you”.
She clearly means that we need to sit with these emotions, in silence, and to genuinely reflect on them. The act of not pushing them away or ignoring them, can help us sort through our scrambled emotions in an effort to better understand them.
So, what can you do when you might be feeling ‘emotionally scrambled’?
Take 5, 10 or 15
It is so worth it to take 5, 10, or 15 minutes of complete solitude to reflect on the feelings you are having. Sitting with them or, as Tara Brach says, inviting them in to have tea with you, allows you to begin to separate and untangle these emotions so that you can better identify each one.
As these emotions are individually revealed, you can begin the process of prioritizing them in order of the impact they are having on you.
For example, during your 5, 10 or 15 minutes of reflection time, the emotions of frustration, anger, and jealousy might pop up for you. Now, you are in a perfect position to ask yourself these 3 questions:
Which of these three emotions stands out the most? Jealousy
Which of these emotions falls second and third on the list? Anger, Frustration
Chances are the the number one ranking emotion is what you need to get to the bottom of, so a final couple of questions you might reflect on are:
What is it within myself that is causing the jealousy I am experiencing?
What actions do I need to take in order to better understand myself and the steps needed to lessen the impact that jealousy is having on me?
Taking just 5, 10 or 15 minutes to reflect on our scrambled emotions is not only worth the effort and the time, we can also create actionable steps to better deal with these emotions and move forward in much more empowering ways. Better yet, take a few extra minutes to journal out some of these thoughts and the action steps you came up with. Journalling is an excellent way to hold yourself more accountable and to get things out of your head and on paper.
Emotional regulation requires us to put self-awareness into practice in our lives. Trying out the 5, 10 or 15-minute exercise is a great way to better regulate our emotions and learn from them rather than divert, deflect, or push them away.
How aligned were you today?
Imagine a time, either recently or in the past, when you were functioning and performing at your optimal best. Take a few minutes to reflect on this moment. As you reflect back on that time, what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? What exactly was it that you were doing? Was it an individual pursuit or were you surrounded by others? What time of day was it? What emotions were you experiencing at the time? How did it feel to be performing at such a high level? Where were you? What preparation may have gone into you being able to perform in this way?
As you think about these questions and sort through the answers that come to mind, you are tapping into some neurological hardwiring that allows you to re-experience what it felt like to be in that moment and recalling these events is a healthy exercise to remind us that it is moments such as this that we want to create with more consistency in our lives.
Performing at our best is not a chance happening. It is a direct result of connecting with our strengths and the specific states of mind or dispositions that allow us to thrive in ways that lead to more personal and professional satisfaction.
What words come to mind when you think of a specific time that you were functioning at your optimal best? Here are some words below that may resonate with you.
It’s important to align ourselves in a way that allows us to tap into our strengths and create the conditions that help us to experience more optimal states of performance. The challenge of aligning ourselves requires us to do a daily reflection of where we are at with accessing and putting into action our strengths. It’s imperative that we don’t let our strengths go to waste.
For example, let’s say your 3 words were Empathetic, Inspired, and Intentional. Reflective questions you might ask yourself at the end of the day are:
How empathetic was I today?
How inspired did I feel today?
How intentional were my actions today?
What do I need to do tomorrow in order to be more empathetic, more inspired, and more intentional?
Investing the time in identifying your 3-5 words that describe you when you are at your best and reflecting at the end of each day can be the constant reminder you need to stay on track in order to be the very best version of yourself possible. Keep at it!
Am I going to practice peace of go to war?
What a great question to consider as you go about your daily business. With certainty we can expect that on most days we will come up against struggles and obstacles when dealing with certain people who cross our path.
Our pre-programmed default setting can cause us to respond to these situations with much higher levels of stress and aggression that are often triggered by our autonomic nervous system. However, when building greater self-awareness of our habitual response patterns, we can choose to tap into the breath and literally breathe our way to a calmer state when being in these situations.
As the passage states, when things get edgy, we have the ability to ask ourselves this question, “Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?”
The question alone is not enough though as specific mindfulness strategies such as focused breath work can and will help us remain more present and calm in these edgy situations allowing us to choose to practice peace with more regularity, especially when stakes are high.
In a world plagued by spiking levels of depression, addiction, and other forms of mental illness, it is more important than ever to deepen the art or practicing peace with others rather than going to war with them.
BREATHE + GRATITUDE + INTENTION + ACTION
The alarm goes off snapping us out of a deep sleep. Groggily, we reach for our device in the darkness of the early morning only to hit snooze, trying to grasp on to any final minutes of sleep we can manage. It’s so incredibly easy to repeat this pattern of mindlessly hitting snooze and literally wasting away precious moments of the early morning.
Beginning each morning with specific rituals or routines allows us to start off each day with purpose and intention which will more often than not inspire us to be productive and take action on living our purpose, whatever that purpose may be.
Michael Gervais, a well-known American performance psychologist recommends beginning each day with a 90-second ritual that can help us begin the day with a specific focus and intention. It’s simple to think about but harder to put into practice. As soon as you open your eyes first thing in the morning, you go through 4 quick and easy steps:
I’m eager to return to blogging again after a long hiatus. It won't be easy, as I feel incredibly rusty and out of tune with articulating my thoughts, but I'm going to give it a go anyways!
Today, I merely want you to consider one thing as you read this blog post. As you read the words below, how would you describe the difference between them as it relates to your current state of mind?
To me, the word 'contraction' implies shortening, decreasing, or tension of some sort. As for the word 'expansion', thoughts such as space, extension, and stretching come to my mind.
I ask you to think about the difference between these words because deep down the question that I have boils down to how are you currently choosing to use your mental energy? The energy of your thoughts, your words, and your actions?
Every day we are the ones who get to decide whether or not we use our mental, emotional and/or physical power to create positive and expansive thoughts or to create negative, constricting thoughts that minimize how we experience the world around us.
Writing this blog post is a genuine reminder to myself that I have the ability, day in and day out, to create empowering thoughts and actions that expand the potential of what is possible. I need to keep reminding myself that it's all about the awareness and the ability to intentionally put this practice into play in my personal and professional life.
In sharing my thoughts with anyone reading this post, I hope it is a powerful reminder that we all have the ability to choose expansive thoughts when we consciously decide to do so, but it takes practice.
A question that I have for you as you finish reading this post is:
Are you currently using your energy to expand mindfully and be at your fullest or to contract narrowly and minimize your potential?
Right now, writing this blog is a challenge for me. I am experiencing some very narrow thoughts as I have not written in ages, but through practice, I know it will become easier. Instead of thinking, "What do I have that I can share that is of value to others?", I choose to reframe my restrictive thoughts into expansive thoughts and turn them into statements that allow room to stretch, so that I can pivot towards more spacious energy, such as:
How might I share my ideas to inspire others?
To end this post, I want to ask you to take the next 5 minutes to reflect on the last couple days. In particular, that little inner voice within yourself. What are some of the things that you've been saying to yourself? Has that voice inside yourself been creating expansive language that empowers you?
Has that inner voice been constricting, causing you to experience negative thoughts and emotions?
The most important element to bring into this reflective practice is non-judgement. When reflecting, should you realize that there is constriction in your thoughts and emotions, simply being aware of these patterns is the first step in doing something about it.
A second step is to actively put into practice a simple strategy that can help flip these constrictive thoughts and emotions in order to bring more positivity to the way we think and the way we feel. It takes practice, but it can actually help to change some of the mental patterns that we create in our every day life.
Here's an example to consider:
While reflecting on the past two days, you catch yourself scrolling through social media being slightly envious of seeing other people's summer holidays and find yourself wanting to experience something more or something better during your own holiday. Firstly, in bringing non-judgement into this scenario, you must refrain from going down a dark path and simply accept that this is the way you might be feeling. Secondly, instead of allowing yourself to feel envious or desiring more, you can flip it by doing this:
Be grateful for having your own time away from work.
Be grateful for having the resources and the time to create your own experiences.
Be grateful that you have the ability to reflect and to make your own choices.
In trying to flip our own thought patterns, it is an attempt to spark a different way to think and feel. When we put this into practice (and it TAKES practice and real effort), our brains actually begin to restructure ways of thinking to bring on more positive emotions and thoughts.
Research suggests that this concept of 'scanning for the positive' can make a difference in our lives and bring on greater levels of well-being. It's not just fluff! Positivity Psychologist, Martin Seligman, has done years of research into the impact that these simple strategies can have on bringing greater happiness and well-being in our lives.
In closing, I ask that you make a genuine effort over the next couple of days to try flipping your constrictive thoughts (if in fact you are experiencing constriction) into more empowering and positive ways of thinking and feeling. For each constrictive thought, try to create 2 or 3 statements that help to reframe things in a more positive way (as I gave in the example above).
Strive to be aware of both your constricting and expansive thoughts and consider how your expansive views might help to maximize your best self.
Thanks for reading.
A moment of mental calmness in-between your busy school day.
How many thoughts do you think you have in just one minute? I’ve read that we have approximately 35 to 48 thoughts per minute. We think incessantly. Imagine that in just one day, we can have up to a total of 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts. These thoughts can be tallied under the categories of automatic, useless, repetitive, positive, negative, forthcoming, stressful and so on.
As teachers we are often caught rushing between classes, then to meetings and on to planning our next batch of lessons. All the while, without us even being aware of it, thoughts float and flitter around in our heads some times controlling our behaviour and our interactions with others, as well as decisions that we make.
As a mindfulness practitioner, I wondered how we might move into our meetings more purposefully to slow down just for a moment. I was looking to seek some mental clarity. In an effort to find a moment of calm just before our planning meetings, I took the initiative to try out some mindfulness strategies with the team of teachers I work with.
This was the start of the 1-minute mindfulness initiative. This provided a mental break before all meetings. Our team simply pauses together before we begin a meeting and set a timer for 60 seconds. We all sit up a little taller and take on an alert but relaxed posture. Then we just breathe until the 1-minute is over. After this 1-minute, we move right into the agenda for our meetings. My aim is to try to create the conditions for starting off meetings in a restorative way to allow everyone to come together in this simple moment of silence. I believe that just 1-minute can make this happen! It can be as simple as that, a 1-minute pause before every meeting.
In a way, it was a way for me to deliberately breathe between transitions through the day, especially at the end of day meetings. At first I led these one-minute breaks by using simple informative statements such as, ‘breathe in for 7 counts and exhale for 11’, or suggested other types of breath work. However, over time, my goal was to create a routine of 1-minute silent breaks before we began meetings ultimately removing myself as having to lead these moments. Instead, the teachers can use the 1-minute in any way they wish to ground themselves before beginning our meetings.
A few colleagues shared their thoughts after our mindful minute:
“I find that when we practice these mindfulness exercise it gives me energy and a positive perspective moving forward.”
“I really appreciate these methods and hope they continue.”
"After rushing around it is nice to settle in before the actual meetings begin. Seems like a minute is a short time, but it is enough to refocus."
Test out these simple mindful breathing minutes for yourself, your colleagues and your community.
Strive to be mindful and present. Thanks for reading.
Switch off auto-pilot mode and come alive with your senses experience Veja-De.
Have you ever experienced a series of tedious days that seem robotic in nature? Day in and day out living in repeat mode. Would this experience be similar to what Bill Murray experienced in the movie Ground Hog Day? We need to catch ourselves in these moments of time in order to awaken the senses and become more aware of life happening around us.
I want to invite you to set an intention. You’ll need to lean into this experience with fresh eyes to bring a new awareness into your day. Doing so helps to draw us out of our mental tedium and begin to focus on things differently.
Here’s the deal, you’ll need to practice Veja-De. Yes, that is right. I’m not talking about Deja-vu but instead Veja-De!
In Warren Berger’s article, The power of “Veja-De”, he focuses on the following question, “Can a shift in perspective help us to become better questioners?” Berger describes it as observing everyday surroundings with “Veja-De” eyes that help us to see the familiar in fresh ways. The familiar can become so mundane and we often times lose sight of the fact that everything around us is changing all of the time. Even though we may feel that our day to day actions are routine and methodical, they are not. Looking at the familiar with fresh eyes allows us to embrace and celebrate the ‘newness’ that every day offers us.
Veja-De captured my attention because I believe it fully connects with mindfulness. Bringing a kind and curious awareness to your everyday environment is the practice of mindfulness. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University who is known as the ‘mother of mindfulness’, talks about the act of noticing new things that keeps you in the present moment.
Below is a link to a 4-minute video where Ellen explains why we need to stop operating on auto-pilot.
This video sparked a connection to another great blog that I often read, “Slow Looking, Out of Eden by Shari Tishman link”
How often do we permit ourselves a moment or two to linger and really look at something that we've passed a million times on our daily commute to work? How often do we actively pause with a revered stare to curiously look at something that we’ve never noticed before?
In the car, on the way to school each morning, my boys and I like to play a game. We pick out 3 new things that we notice. For example, sometimes we choose a color (let’s say blue) and then find three new things that are blue. Other times we try to spot weird or silly things. We make these careful observations and then share our discoveries. We’re always so surprised to see what each of us has pointed out. These observations always end up being so different. We note the different perspectives that we have, even though we take the same route day in and day out.
Perhaps this is what the French novelist Marcel Proust meant when he said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Begin to see your world with “Veja-De” eyes.
Strive to rid yourself of the mundane in your life.
Reflect on the uniqueness of each day.
One of the joys and rewards I find delight in about teaching and sharing mindfulness is when it really begins to organically stick with my students.
I used to think that I was the only one jumping up and down, excited about teaching mindfulness practices, especially during the early days when I had just begun to share it. Despite initial bland expressions and responses when I first introduced mindfulness to my students, I stuck with it over the months and years as I was so passionate about it. I began to check in more frequently with the students in regards to how they felt about the different mindfulness practices we had worked on and over time I started to hear more and more of their thoughts. At times they expressed things that they loved about mindfulness and other times what they didn't like about it which was great feedback for me.
They surprised me with their honest reflections. For example, a student once opened up that she was so busy during the week that she was stressed out. She said that mindfulness practice was the only time that she could relax because her after school schedule was jammed up every day with either piano, Mandarin, English, or violin lessons. She said that if she was lucky, she would some times have Fridays off to play.
Another student upon reflection said he thought mindfulness was a waste of time. Trying not to react in defence, I asked him to explain why he felt it was a waste of time, so that I could better understand his thoughts.
He then went on to explain that his mother always said to him that in order to be productive and to improve himself, he had to do extra math, English, and Mandarin, so his interpretation of mindfulness was that it was 'doing nothing', therefore useless to him. I did not judge his response instead try to understand his point of view.
Receiving regular feedback from my students about how they feel about mindfulness allows me to personalize and provide choice in regards to the practice itself. For example, I often use eye-pillows with my students during the mindfulness sessions. One of my students prefers not to be still and lay down, so I allow him to quietly walk around helping me to place the eye pillows gently on the other students.
I have another student who has difficulty remaining still but still likes to take part in the activities. However, instead of remaining still, he quietly rocks back and forth or side to side as he listens. After one session he thanked me and told me that he could see what was going on in his mind. He said that he cannot be still in his head because it's like ten giant screens playing images all at once. This was a great first step to personalize my practice for him in order to help him quiet his mind.
Ending my mindfulness sessions with time to reflect is a valuable tool as it allows my students' voices to be heard. We always purposely pause and listen to one another's thoughts and opinions about the mindfulness practice.
Although they all don't fully embrace it, having done mindfulness with my students for four years now has allowed me to see that many of them are really beginning to understand the value that the practice can bring to their lives in helping to calm them, reduce anxiety and lower stress.
How happy I am to water the seeds of mindfulness in these young and beautiful minds.
“Renew thyself completely each day.”
~Henry David Thoreau
Mirror Mirror on the wall…
2016 has been unwrapped and it is the time of the year to renew again with a fresh start. Trying something new this year will have you start by practicing self-love.
Over the years, one of my most consistent goals has always been to strive to be healthy. Some years have been better than others. If I look back and take stalk, my previous goals have been to complete a full marathon, to always eat better, to give up coffee (only for a short time) and to lose some extra pounds. So you can see the common thread has always been one of a physical nature.
Given that I am now 45 years old, I see that there are certain experiences that begin to repeat themselves when a bevy of women get together. It’s common to see them begin to talk about their physical bodies, not with what it is they love about their bodies, but sadly with their endless complaints about what is wrong with their physical selves. Of course it can be in a joking manner and is usually kept lighthearted, but for so many of us we have and hold numerous misconceptions about our physical bodies.
If what I have mentioned above resonates with you in the tiniest, I invite you to test out this mindful body scan that I created for when you are in the shower.
In writing this I think about many female friends that I have. I wrote it firstly for myself and with all of my surrogate sisters in mind from around the world who would like to declutter negative thoughts and begin to take care of their mental health and wellbeing. I ask you to aim to practice gratitude for your body, and all of your curves, at its current state right now. Practice emotional well-being about how you see yourself and aim to delete those default narratives you may repeat over and over about your body. Aim to revive yourself in the shower each day with this mindful gratitude practice.
I really believe that this body scan in the shower will help to develop and maintain a better body image for all of my dear surrogate sisters and friends. Be kind to yourself in your thoughts, your actions and your words. Use this time and energy to flood your mind with grateful thoughts about your body.
I know it isn’t a cure all for what ails the mental image you hold of yourself, but I believe it can help in minimizing the negative thoughts we can possess about our bodies. As you would support a best friend, aim to be kind to yourself and begin to look at your body as a blessing. Shift over to a more neutral or even better yet, a more positive body image for yourself. As with any new skill the more you practice the better you get at it.
Strive to be kind to yourself, be kind to your body and be kind to others.
Mother, wife, educator,mindfulness promoter and yoga enthusiast. Believes in the power of visualization.