Good Enough

Good Enough

I woke up this morning feeling….off.  Not terrible.  But not good either.  Definitely not good enough to feel positive about the trajectory of the day.  After a weekend of great conversation, meeting new babies, cozy fires and time away from a work computer, a day when work was back on the agenda seemed like a practical joke – the mean kind.

How could it be time to spend another day sitting in front of the computer, making phone calls and asking questions?  And how could the forecast call for above average temperatures – in December?  For someone who enjoys activities that require snow and ice, above average temperatures are not cause for celebration.

I was unsettled, and it seemed like interacting with anything even slightly undesirable would cause me to slip into an all day melancholy.  As I was resigning myself to a day spent tapping a keyboard, I saw the sun through the window and noticed the sparkle of the snow against the skeleton trees of the lake’s shoreline. But the potentially rising temperature and the schedule of my afternoon overshadowed the beauty that I usually see in those things.  I felt myself sinking into a haze of wanting something different.  I felt like someone who is unsatisfied with daily life and someone who dreads the work week.

So I went outside.  Instead of letting myself simmer in that haze of wanting, I put on my ski boots and mentally prepared myself for a slow sloppy loop around the perimeter of the lake through mushy snow.  I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I know enough about health and wellness to understand that getting some fresh air and exercise can boost one’s mood – and enough about motivation to know that you don’t have to feel motivated to do something.  Sometimes you just have to do it.  I went out the backdoor, down the still frosty steps to the snow crusted lake, stepped into my skis and pushed off.

And then I noticed something.

The snow on the lake wasn’t actually mushy.  The glide from the crusty snow that was left on the ice was actually pretty good.  95% better than anticipated.  Worth more than one lap around, even.  Good enough.  I stopped at the midpoint, looked up and realized that all of the trees were blindingly white in their frosty jackets that were made possible by the cold nights and warmer days of the past week.  Stunning enough to make me pause and just look.  Good enough.

It was good enough to snap me out of my melancholy stupor and remind me of all the things that are worth celebrating during the days that I spend here on this earth, despite work computers, endless phone calls and forecasts that aren’t ideal.  There will surely be days in the future when I feel off balance or in want of something different.  But there will also surely be little things – like unexpectedly good enough skiing conditions and the beauty of hoarfrost – that punctuate even the dreariest of days with one more little detail that makes life worth celebrating.

It’s nice to remember why I’ve chosen to live where I do and why I like this time of year as the daylight wanes, even when it’s warmer than I might prefer.  It’s nice to remember that I don’t have to let waking up on the wrong side of the bed and a task list that I’m not looking forward to color my whole day black.  And it’s nice to notice the beauty that pierces the ordinary days just because of making one little choice over another.

Mindfulness In A Culture That Invites Distraction

Mindfulness In A Culture That Invites Distraction

In wellness and life coaching, a fair amount of time is spent thinking and talking about “mindfulness,” or a state of active, open attention on the present, which includes observing thoughts and feelings from a distance without passing judgment. In our first world, corporate-driven culture, it’s something that is perhaps easy to talk and think about and harder to put into practice – after all, who has time to be mindful on a regular basis in the midst of to do lists, meetings, and the myriad of other items that punctuate our work days? Isn’t multitasking the only way to get everything done on time?  We need to make a profit!  Meet the bottom line!  Make that person happy!  And that one! And it all has to be efficient and productive!  Plus, if we don’t judge what’s going on during the day, how will we convey what we think is right?

Well, we might argue that when we practice being present and mindful in the moments as they pass, we do our jobs better and leave our work feeling grounded, instead of frazzled. We can have confidence that we didn’t miss something important due to trying to do everything at once, even if we didn’t get to the entire list. We can put our energy into the thing that’s right in front of us, and we can let things go when letting them go is going to serve best. We can stand witness to the events of the day that we can’t control, and we can take comfort in the fact that we did our very best to impact the world around us in a positive way.  Even if we have to let a few dollars go in the process.

I few months ago I sent a message to a client-one who’s been active and engaged in her process, and thus ready to put some energy into thinking about the questions posed to her about being more mindful. This was her response when I inquired about how her mindfulness practice was coming along:

Mindfulness has put me in better touch with my feelings. It’s making me more aware of my surroundings, especially regarding the senses (smell, touch, sound, etc.). I identify many more blessings and have taken the time to appreciate them. I enjoy journaling my observances. The journal was a great suggestion you gave me.

I am realizing that multi-tasking is not the way to go in most instances. I feel less stressed when I focus on one task at a time. When I reflect on what I completed, I feel I am accomplishing more each day. It feels great to pause and acknowledge what I’ve done instead of just moving on to the next thing for a continuous chain of to-dos’s which leaves me feeling depleted.

Mindfulness is definitely a new habit that I need more practice at in order to break through the old ways of thinking and doing things. It’s been like a new aerobics class or yoga position that is challenging to keep up with or to do at all until I gain conditioning, but it feels great to learn a new way that is so beneficial for me mentally and emotionally.

So as you go about your work days in the months to come, remember to allow yourself to stay present in what’s happening right now. Because after all, right now is the only moment that we can ever truly grasp.

Gifts of the Ordinary

Gifts of the Ordinary

Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.” There is not a day that goes by that I do not have the opportunity to dwell on 30 seconds of disappointment, or 2 minutes of worry, or a half hour of wishing I was somewhere else. There is ample challenge, heartache and disappointment to be found in all sorts of places if I want to find those things. The world can be a place of fear and grief, of anguish and loss, or of longing and dashed hopes. When we dwell on what’s not right in the world, when we shut out the beauty that persists despite the hardships that pepper our experience, and when we don’t open the gift that ordinary offers, the world aches.

I can remember glancing out the front window during a lull halfway through my work day this past September and seeing my husband swing our one and a half year old daughter up onto his shoulders as they made their way to the garage. The sun was filtering through the newly yellowed leaves on the maple tree, and a gentle breeze was ruffling them, hinting at the coming of autumn. Nick walked slowly up the stone path. Eva rode tall on his shoulders, happily smelling the tiny green blanket that goes with her everywhere and occasionally hooting like an owl. They rounded the corner and were out of my sight lines in about 30 seconds.

It was only 30 seconds, but it was 30 seconds of pure joy.

One tiny slice of joy, added to the other tiny slices that infuse themselves into my consciousness over the course of a day eventually bind together into contentment. Sometimes it takes a while, but at the end of the day, contentment somehow settles into my veins. Those little slices of joy force me to acknowledge that when I look for gifts in the ordinary, when I notice what’s right in the world, and when I see the beauty that punctuates every moment, the world gets better. When I choose joy, the world weeps in gratitude, and the ache subsides.

The world wants to get better, and it does when we remember to see beauty where yesterday we saw nothing in the ordinary events that took place. Little bits of the world start to heal when we remember that we are the universe, and the universe is us. The world’s ache transmutes into peace when we remember that there is no light without darkness and when we accept the oneness that wants to flow through us.

The world is better when we acknowledge 30 seconds of pure joy on a Monday in September and when we replace worry and longing with the gifts of the ordinary.

“The world is filled, and filled with wonder. To see this is to be made free. There is transformation in the beauty of the ordinary. The grace, the light of a brief encounter, of the greening weeping willow, of coffee brewing. There could have been nothing, but there is something, and that something is very good. We forget that, in the drudgery of life. We forget to look around with the amazement of a child. We forget to be kind to each other and make apple pie and plant trees. I want to remember.” -Ellie Roscher [adapted]

Notes on Being Alive

Notes on Being Alive

Wake up. Notice how things grow. Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel.   Attend sunrises. ~Douglas Wood

What was your initial response to Mr. Woods’ suggestion? When I first read the little book that contains the above advice, Breathe the Wind, Drink the Rain: Notes on Being Alive, I thought, “Of course. Stay aware. Notice life as it happens. Be authentic. Pay attention to a new day coming into being. No problem.”

Well. As with most simple advice, it has proven more challenging than I anticipated. What follows are some suggestions and strategies that I find to be effective in my quest to experience life fully. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes I fall of the wagon. But if I do these things consistently, I am reminded of the beauty that is possible when I can live in a way that supports noticing what matters.

First things first: Wake up. To me waking up is more than just the physical act of coming out of a sleep state. It means seeing past the illusions that are presented via media, advertising and an economic culture that is based on always getting the next best thing. So how do we avoid getting sucked into the propaganda?

  1. Tune into how you feel the next time an advertisement crosses your consciousness. Does it invite you feel joyful? Or does it invite you feel like you are somehow incomplete without whatever it is?
  2. If you feel a sense of “I am not enough” look at that feeling. Acknowledge its existence. Let it be there. Then let it go. You are complete, even without a new pair of heels or lash lengthening mascara or the latest smart phone or trim waistline.
  3. Start to notice the energy of the messages that are coming from the media. Notice the sense of lack that pervades so much of advertising and decide to stop paying your own energy into a system that is set up to make you feel like you are missing something. Limit screen time, avoid television and pay more attention to the trees under the billboards than the messages plastered along the roadways.

Next: Notice how things grow. We live in a time of instant gratification. We can get what we want whenever we want it as long as we are willing to pay the asking price. Sometimes I forget to embrace the process of growth and evolution.   In our fast paced lives, how do we slow down enough to notice life happening around us?

  1. Plant a seed. Maybe it’s in a community garden, maybe it’s in a pot in your windowsill, maybe it’s in your front yard. Give it some sun, water it and witness its growth. It will invite you to be patient and to trust the process of accepting whatever is happening in the present moment.
  2. Pay attention to your breath. Take a minute or two to push back from your screen right now to close your eyes, inhale deeply into your lower abdomen to the count of three and hold for a few seconds. Then exhale to the count of three and repeat. Focusing on our breath is an effective way to return to the state of mindful presence that allows us to notice what is happening when we skim the hectic surface off of our days.
  3. Commit to eating at least one meal or snack per day with no distractions. No internet, no phone, no newspaper, no planning the next section of your day in your head. Tune into the food on your plate and notice the way it tastes, how you feel as you to eat it, and how it satisfies your hunger. Notice how eating with full awareness invites you to make the choices that serve you and what your physical body needs best.

Moving on: Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel. So many times, I find myself interpreting what I see, hear, think or feel through someone else’s lens. When I can truly look at what’s going on through my own experience and my own lens, I am more able to act in a way that is consistent with what I value, regardless of what another might see, hear, think or feel.

  1. Identify something that you would describe as beautiful. Let yourself think about why that something is beautiful to you and about what has colored your perception. Is your idea of beauty consistent with what really matters to you?   Let your unique interpretation of beauty shine through.
  2. When you are feeling negative, sad, irritated or fearful, don’t try to mask those feelings. Let them bubble to the surface and then look at them without judgment. Sometimes we need to experience certain feelings fully in order to let them go.
  3. Speak up for what matters to you. Go against the grain if your entire being is screaming at you to do so. Be the one who doesn’t cross the road with the crowd. Let your life speak through the things you do and the things you don’t do. Be authentic to what matters.

And finally: Attend sunrises. For me, witnessing the start of a new day holds a power that is hard to describe. There is such potential in the breaking of a new dawn. As the rhythm of the earth moves my part of the world into a new day, when I take the time in the morning to witness that new start, I am more apt to acknowledge the good that can be found, even in the midst of challenge.

  1. Sleep well. Figure out an evening ritual you can do to help you unwind, set up your sleeping space to support you, and tell those you share space with about your plan.  Allow yourself time to rest.
  2. Splash some warm water on your face after you rise, stretch your body and walk go outside if conditions allow.
  3. Greet the sun as it does its own stretch into a new day, or bid it goodnight if early rising isn’t your thing. Express gratitude for the opportunity to breathe into a fresh start or for another day lived.

Mr. Wood goes onto include several more simple tips on how to be alive, but I’ll let you read the book and come up with your own interpretations for the rest.

Do you have some strategies that have proven useful as you work on staying present and living in a way that is consistent with what matters to you?  Be sure to share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your wisdom and experience!

A version of this post first appeared at Having Time.

To be Mindful

To be Mindful

What is it to be mindful?

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. You notice little tidbits of beauty or feel the breeze on your face. It can be so easy to let ourselves slip into our routines and operate on autopilot, or go through our days in a semi-conscious state as we get sucked into the busy tendencies of modern life.  Practicing mindfulness means truly living in the moment and awakening to every experience.

Maybe to be mindful means that we need to turn the sirens and highways down and listen to the frequency that vibrates under the dull hum of the ‘first world’.  Perhaps it’s like looking under a log and seeing the other world that’s alive in the moss and soil and insects that make their home there.  So many times we just glance at the log and continue walking by, intent on where we are going.  Intent on getting there.  Achieving the goal.  Crossing the finish line.  Arriving.  Arriving quickly.  So many times we don’t even notice the log and the other realm that exists closer to the ground.

What are we missing when we hurry to get where we think we need to go?

We miss the deep blue of the western sky at dawn when the sun is just starting to spread rays of abundance into the day.   We miss the way the wind brings texture to a body of water that would otherwise be still, and waiting.   We miss the sound of roots eagerly drinking up moisture after incubating all winter in preparation for the moment the earth signals that it’s time to start growing again.  We miss the unruly pattern and unexpected symmetry of an aspen grove’s baby leaves as they dance in the rose colored breeze of a new season.   And we miss the opportunity to use each moment to appreciate a single breath and the life that flows through it.   We miss seeing the beauty where yesterday we saw nothing.

If we listen, we will hear.  We will hear and we will stop missing.  We  will notice the log and every other enchantment that there is to notice.

Maybe to be mindful means to see beauty where yesterday we saw nothing.

                                                                                                                                                                          

What might you do today to fully engage in each NOW moment?