Sunday, 27 January 2013

Week 5: Making a list … and checking it.

My brain is like a sieve. I think I'll blame it on baby brain – that's definitely a 'thing' and I'm pretty sure it lasts forever, right?

I've missed appointments, forgotten to pick up things at the supermarket, called people by the wrong name. I often call my baby 'Flexo' instead of 'Lincoln' (yes, Flexo would be one of our dogs' names).

I am scattered and vague. No doubt a lot of this has to do with being tired (my baby likes a good party in the middle of the night), but I think it also has a lot to do with my mind taking me to the future and the past all the time, instead of focusing on the moment. I'll be doing one thing, like the dishes for example, and then in my mind I start to panic about all those other things I need to remember to do. Suddenly, I'm no longer doing the dishes, I'm (very ineffectively) doing 101 other things. Unfortunately, I then forget to actually do these other things until I'm once again at the kitchen sink, or in the shower, or feeding the baby. The cycle continues.

I've always been a big fan of lists. Writing stuff down helps me to sort it out. Lately, though, even my lists have become the opposite of mindful. I write them while I'm distracted, forget where I've put them, then start another one. Then I forget to check them and tick them off (refer to my earlier point about forgetting appointments …).

Right now, I have lots of little jobs on my 'lists'. We are about to move house – suddenly, I have a bunch of stuff to do, and that panicky feeling in my chest is intensifying.

This week is a good week to find a way to be more mindful about all this stuff I have to do. So, Week 5 is about making lists – mindfully. Then I'm going to make sure I check them and, mindfully, work through them.

Wish me luck!

Week 4 Update: To escape or embrace?

Week 4 was all about getting back to nature. It was harder than I thought.

The week turned into a bit of a crazy frenzy and I found myself having to 'steal' moments of time to get outside. A short walk here, a moment taking in the plants in my front yard there, a cuppa on the deck … little moments that I savoured.

In Melbourne, it was a week of mixed weather – we had sun and rain; some scorching hot days and a few that were more mild. Nothing new or surprising for Melbourne, of course! Yet, through it all, the thing that struck me the most was the wind. As I walked or sat or stood, the wind made its impression. Sometimes hot and gusty, at other times refreshingly cool and smooth. Invisible yet present; ebbing and flowing.

The other thing I noticed was just how ingrained our tendency is to 'escape' nature. If it's hot we go inside where it's cool; if it's cool, we warm up; if it's raining or windy we take shelter. I did my best to resist this urge on occasion this week. I took a walk on a particularly hot day and instead of making the heat wrong or bad or uncomfortable, I tried to simply notice it.

I had fun watching my 10 month old son exploring nature this week, too. He was definitely mindful in the process: his little hands drew back from the prickly grass, then carefully returned for a more thorough exploration.

On some days, the extent of my foray into nature might be as fleeting as the short dash from the front door to the car. On other days I have the luxury of taking a walk or having a picnic. This week has helped me to see that, no matter how brief the opportunity, there's so much to be gained in being present in those moments. As I anticipated, it is grounding, expansive and inspiring.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Week 4: Seeing the forest and the trees.

Time to get out for a walk! There have been a few days (ok, quite a few days) lately when I haven't left the house. Or, if I have, it's been for a quick nip to the shops. What I haven't done is enjoyed nature. I haven't gone out and really been in nature – you know, the kind of being when you notice the sound of water trickling over rocks, feel the crunch of yellowed grass underfoot, smell the pollen migrating through the air.

There's something about being in nature that makes me feel more connected; that makes me feel part of something much bigger than myself. It's perspective building, grounding and expansive all at once. And those are things I need right now.

To really appreciate mother nature, we can't be sitting by a babbling brook or under the canopy of a great big tree while we catch up on emails. We need to just be there, notice and enjoy.

This week, I'm getting back to nature. Even if it's just a walk around my own garden (ok, garden is a generous description in this case, but let's not get picky!), I'm going to get in touch with nature every day – feel it, smell it, hear it, see it …

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Week 3 Update: That frog is hard to swallow

They say it takes three months to break/form a habit, don't they? I think I'm going to need every moment of those three months to break this one. Despite my best intentions, as the week draws to a close, I still find myself interrupting all the time. Sigh …

I guess it was never going to be easy, and one week to break a habit is pretty unrealistic. I am, after all, still working on eating mindfully (week 2) and focussing on one task at a time while I'm on the computer (week 1).

At least by paying attention to this 'quirk' of mine I've been able to see the impact it has on my interactions. I really think that simply noticing stuff like this is an important first step. It's only once we're aware of what we're doing that we can do anything to change it!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Week 3: I'm sorry, were you trying to say something?

I have a terrible habit.

It drives me crazy when other people do it to me, yet I do it to others again and again.

I interrupt.

You might be trying to tell me a story and all I can do is interrupt. Let me be clear: I'm not interrupting you because I think your story is boring and I want to change the topic; I simply think I can predict exactly what you're going to say. I'm that person who tries to finish your sentences.

Where does this stem from? Impatience? (surely I can tell your story more efficiently than you can); maybe a desire to show my clever skill of being able to get inside your head? (don't worry, I can't really do that, it just sometimes appears that I think I can); poor conversational etiquette? I'm not sure, but I do know this is a huge block for me on my 'mindfulness' journey.

Maybe it would be easier to leave this particular 'challenge' until later in the year. Week 50 is looking good. But, you know what they say: “eat the frog first” and all that. It's better to get the hardest stuff out of the way; then the rest will be (relatively) easy.

This is my frog. Ok, maybe it's one of my frogs, because I'm pretty sure I have a few. Either way, it's not a bad thing to knock on the head.

How does this case of 'conversation, interrupted' impact my ability to live mindfully? Well, while I'm busy computing what I think someone is going to say next and then, rudely, saying it for them, I'm missing an opportunity to really be with them. To really listen and understand. Wouldn't it be far more mindful, let alone polite, to simply let them say their thing? Who am I to take the words out of their mouth, or, worse, put them in?

So there it is: Week 3 is all about listening.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Week 2 Update: Food: What a complex relationship

This week's challenge is proving very difficult! It seems I have unconsciously become a hoover in relation to food. It's on my plate one second, gone the next …

Over the past few days, I've noticed several things about the way I eat:

  • I hardly chew! Chomp, chomp; down the hatch. 
  • I'm always focused on my next bite, not the one that's in my mouth. While I chew, I get my utensils working, loading up the next mouthful. Before I've even finished swallowing, I'm shovelling the next bite in.
  • I'm overloading. Far from cutting food into dainty pieces or biting off a small amount, I smash in as much as I can at a time. Five bites and that muffin is gone (it was good, but I barely had a chance to notice it). 
  • I eat to soothe. As a mother of a nine month old who still wakes frequently overnight, I'm rather sleep deprived. The sleepier I get, the more I crave comfort food. I eat when I'm not hungry, just to fill that certain 'something' that, along with a good night's sleep, I'm missing.
  • I rarely notice the multi-layered experience that food presents. Far from simply offering a party for the tastebuds, food touches all five of the senses. Taking time to appreciate the way food looks, smells, feels, and even sounds (well, sometimes) is something I rarely do … time to change that.
  • I eat whatever's in front of me. If I fill my plate, I finish it. I might even go back for seconds. I don't have a problem with that per se, but I have observed that I only register that 'I'm full' feeling long after I've overdone it, probably because I'm eating way too fast.

Phew! What a lot to become aware of. Now I've noticed all that, I can catch myself in action. Little by little the old habits will be replaced.

Now, off to eat another muffin … this time a little more slowly.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Week 2: Hey! Who ate the last piece of chocolate?

Food. I love the stuff. I often say we were made for each other.

Problem is, half the time I love it so quickly, it barely touches the sides on the way down.

Sometimes I eat too quickly because I'm hungry and my brain tells me to get in as much as I can, as quickly as I can; sometimes it's because I'm just a greedy guts; often it's because I'm eating while simultaneously juggling several balls on my nose and doing the hula (i.e. feeding the baby, talking on the phone, checking my emails, watching telly …). By the time I finish, I've barely registered that I started, and I'm off searching for something else to satisfy my 'eating urge'.

I'm sure you've all been there. You look down and wonder who ate the last piece of chocolate, then realise it was you ... You were just so distractred that you missed the moment. A whole block of chocolate disappears in the blink of an eye (or a bottle of wine, wheel of cheese, packet of biscuits).

What would happen if we actually paid attention to what we were eating? If we appreciated it with all our senses? If we turned off the telly, stopped talking for a moment, and just sat and ate?

There's an exercise I like to do in my yoga classes at Easter and Christmas (great excuses for bringing chocolate to class). After handing out individually wrapped chocolates to each student, I ask them to eat it as slowly as they can – it usually takes us at least five minutes, if not longer. The experience starts before the chocolate wrapper is removed and ends long after the last morsels have dissolved on our tongues.

It's a brilliant mindfulness practice – one that somehow makes chocolate taste even better than it already does (yes, it is possible).

Want to try it? I love using individually wrapped chocolates (yes, I am a chocoholic), but you can pick anything. Other good options are a piece of deliciously ripe fruit or a thin wedge of gooey soft cheese.

First, take a moment to appreciate the look of your chocolate (I'm going to use chocolate throughout this example, but you know you can substitute for whatever takes your fancy) – the shiny wrapper, the way it crinkles and cracks beneath your fingers, the way the foil dances in the light. Now, slowly unwrap it and take some time to look at the chocolate again, take in its shape, texture, colour.

Hold it up to your nose and deeply breathe in its scent.

Is your mouth watering yet? How does it make you feel?

Hold the chocolate to your bottom lip and let it caress your tongue. What is that first taste like?

Take a tiny bite. Let the chocolate dissolve on your tongue.

What can you taste? What can you smell? What is the texture and temperature like in your mouth?

As you continue to eat the chocolate, as slowly as you can, allow yourself to be consumed by the experience. Keep your eyes closed and even when you've swallowed the last bit, notice the residue on your tongue. Can you taste the lingering sweetness? 

What do you think? Amazing?

Now, I'm a realist. It would be impossible for me to eat every mouthful in this way. Frankly, it would be difficult to eat without distraction very regularly at all. But, I plan to make an effort. Whether it be that first bite of every meal, that one piece of chocolate, or a steaming cup of tea, I'm going to eat mindfully every day. The money and effort (from mother nature and man) involved in getting food onto my table deserves respect.

Week 2 Challenge: To eat mindfully.

* A special thankyou to my beautiful friend, Kerry, who did this exercise with me recently with an exquisite piece of cheese. After devouring a good deal of cheese, this last piece, eaten mindfully, was truly divine and utterly satisfying.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Week 1: It starts with something simple …

52 Weeks of Now started simply enough with my first challenge: focusing on one page, one task at a time while on the computer. I'm terribly happy to report the results so far … a big sigh of relief! I must admit that my fingers literally itch to open multiple tabs when I sit down. It's so ingrained, so habitual, that it's hard to resist. But I have. Over the last few days, I've simply opened one page at a time, done what I needed to do, then moved onto the next. It has been empowering and I already feel a little calmer as a result. The emails are read and responded to, real estate perused, bank balance checked – the same things I was doing before, but in a much more mindful (and satisfying) way. A simple adjustment, but it has been a massive shift for me.

Far from an inconsequential change, the effort it has taken to do such a small thing has opened my eyes even further to the power of mindfulness. More than that, it's cracking open a window into my psyche and peeling back the layers of why I move through life the way I do.

I sit here now and the desire to flick over to check Facebook or my email is seriously strong. I'm starting to understand this urge a little more clearly now. I think it's this: I'm uncomfortable in the pauses. Those moments when I'm not doing, not achieving, not contributing. As I pause for a moment to consider which word to type next, I desperately want to fill that pause with another task. Wow. How did I get to this point?

I'm excited (and, I'll admit, nervous) about what else I'm going to learn over the next year …

How about you? Any flashes of insight you'd like to share?