Sunday, 27 October 2013

Week 44: Dear Diary.

I've written diaries, or journals, before. Sometimes I've gone back and read the things I wrote years ago and I'm surprised by the girl I find between the pages. We forget, it seems, the trials and even joys we've had in the past. The intensity of emotion that once seemed so poignant and maybe even irreparable fades, though it's impression is left on the pages.

While I've kept journals in the past, I've never been very consistent with it. While I was pregnant with my son I kept one and vowed to myself that I'd keep it going. A brief dip into its pages reveals my last entry on Wednesday 17 October 2012 - over a year ago.

Still, whether I've been consistent with it or not, my experience has been that journal writing is an exercise in mindfulness. It allows us to download our private thoughts onto the page; to dig within ourselves to uncover what's beneath the surface. Sometimes it's surprising what comes up, other times it seems intensely bland.

I find it funny that as a writer I find keeping a journal difficult. Surely my passion for the written word should be enough to compel me to write every day - if for no other reason than to offer myself an outlet for my anxieties, hopes and dreams. Writing can offer clarity to otherwise murky thoughts that become stagnant in the mind. It can bring to the fore things that we didn't know were there or allow us to see the ordinary in new and extraordinary ways.

For all of these reasons and more, my challenge this week is to journal every day. Why do I feel vaguely anxious at the thought of it? I'm not entirely sure, though it will be interesting to see what lays between the pages of my journal come week-end.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Week 43 Update: Remembering to Ground.

For whatever reason, I found this week's challenge harder than I thought. Grounding - using the earth to support me - is something I thought I'd find reasonably easy. It's not something that's foreign to me - I practice it all the time on my yoga mat. Still, this week, my tendency has been to attempt levitation ... shoulders up around my ears, breath higher than it should be in my chest, muscles working to lift me up when all I want to do is surrender my weight down.

I'm not even sure why this has been so difficult. Perhaps it's the challenges I've faced in encouraging my son down for his sleeps, or the physical discomfort I've felt as my expanding belly expands even further (no doubt about it - that baby is a growin'!). Maybe the reason doesn't matter and maybe I'll never really know; but the truth is that even though it wasn't easy, even though I didn't find myself 'grounding' as frequently as I may have liked, the times I did 'succeed' (for want of a better term), it felt great.

I spoke a bit about this idea of grounding in my yoga classes this week. It's true that grounding can be a place of relative vulnerability - think of the way we 'expose' ourselves in a pose like Shavasana (lying down for final relaxation is what most of us know this as). When we ground, we surrender. And that can be scary. After all, we rather enjoy this illusion of control we maintain for ourselves. You can take a moment now to notice how easy or difficult you find it to surrender to your seat. Can you let the bits of your body that contact the floor (or chair, or earth, or bed or whatever it is you're in contact with) soften? What does it feel like to surrender, while at the same time maintaining a posture that is open, solid and fluid?

I remember someone repeating a quote to me once about having to surrender to get results. I don't know who said it or what quote they were referring to, but it struck me as rather profound. It can be so true: sometimes all the pushing in the world doesn't get us to where we want to go (though maybe sometimes it does). Sometimes we have to let go before we can go forward.

Enough rambling from me for now. Time to surrender with a cuppa for few minutes.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Week 43: Grounding..

We spend a lot of time holding ourselves up - propping ourselves as though we are alone in our efforts to stay upright. It's understandable - life has a way of knocking us sideways again and again. We're protective because we don't want to get hurt; because we want to look after ourselves. We don't need any help and we don't need any support. We're all we need.

Um ... nope. Not a good plan.

I think we all know what this feeling of 'propping' is like - you'll sense it in your shoulders as they creep up towards your ears, as you struggle to relax your body into your seat or bed, as you find your breath sitting high up in your chest when you breathe - and it isn't all that nice. To me, it seems a very forward-thinking type of approach, and not in an entrepreneurial way. It's very much a forgetting-the-present-moment stance. When we 'prop' and protect, we're getting a jump on all the 'could's' in our future, not necessarily responding to what's happening in the moment.

What's the alternative? Grounding: Using our connection with the earth or whatever it is we're in contact with physically to support us. What this doesn't mean is collapsing into the earth or falling flat. It's not a giving up or a sign of weakness. Grounding allows us to give our weight to the earth in a way that is supportive and allows us to move and be more freely.

That connection between the body and the earth is so present - it's real, it's happening - so it's a perfect anchor to now.

If you want to get a better idea of what this feels like, stand up for a moment and try this:
First, stand with your feet hip-width apart and engage as many muscles in your body as you can. As you press down through your feet, feel your knee caps lift as your thighs engage. Your buttocks will clench, your belly will draw back towards your spine. Feel your chest lifting towards the ceiling, as well as your shoulders and head. You'll likely find that your breath is sitting very high in your chest, if you're breathing at all.

Next, do the opposite of the first step. Let everything go. Bend your knees a bit, round through your back and shoulders. Feel as though your posture is giving into gravity. Notice how this feels.

Finally, try to find the middle ground between these two extremes. Use your contact with the earth through your feet to ground. Feel the strength you get from giving your weight down and the way this rebounds through your entire body, creating lightness and ease. Notice your breath, how you feel. Hopefully it feels great!

This week, this will be my practice. When I find myself frazzled, frustrated, less-than-mindful, I'm going to come back to the earth - noticing the contact points I have, using them to ground me and help me to stay present. I can do this in any position - wherever I am, whatever I'm doing - simply noticing and grounding.

Week 42 Update: An Art Escape.

Getting Arty Farty was fantastic. I spent my week (amongst the ordinary daily activities) getting my creative on. I sewed some new curtains for my son's room (a surprising success!), drew some simple pictures for his wall, moulded play dough and coloured with crayons. It was fun.

It made me realise something significant - I have to create. Whether it be big or small, creating something from nothing makes me feel good. It grounds me, pulls me out of my head and brings me a huge amount of pleasure. So I suppose there'll be more sewing, drawing and all things arty farty in my future.

I think the main thing I learnt this week is that letting go of the outcome is so important. When I get arty/crafty, it should be about the process of creating, not about aiming to finish with a masterpiece.

I love watching other people create, too. When you get a chance to watch someone so deeply entrenched in what they're doing - whether it be painting a picture, planting in the garden, playing a musical instrument - you can't help but be impacted by their state. That state of 'flow' - of being so absorbed in what you're doing that everything else seems to melt away. That is some powerful mindfulness. Being creative can take us there.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Week 42: Arty Farty.

I like to be creative. Writing, drawing, doing crafts, dancing like no one's watching.

It doesn't mean I'm always good at it. Which can be a 'problem' because it stops me from doing it more often. Fear seems to be the block that stands in the way of so much we would like to do but don't. "I won't be good enough", "I can't do it", "It looks awful" ... these are the things we say to ourselves - to convince ourselves that there's no point in trying. I disagree. There is a point in trying. Actually, scratch that. There is a point in not trying but doing it anyway. Doing it simply because there's pleasure to be had in the process.

Sometimes, when we do something we love, just because we love it, we become so involved and immersed in it that everything else seems to drop away. This is a phenomenon known as 'flow'. Have you ever felt it? It can come on when we do anything, really. From cooking to surfing or running or anything in between or beyond. It is absolute mindfulness. It is divine.

This week, I may not come into contact with flow, but I will absolutely come into contact with my creativity. This week I'm going to get arty farty. I'm whipping out the pencils, crayons, arts and crafts. I'm going to do it simply because it's fun, not because I want to create a masterpiece. Flow, my friend, please feel free to descend upon me. But even if you don't, in those moments while I'm creating, I intend to forget about the dishes and the washing and the tax return that still needs to be completed. I'll be too busy getting my arty farty on.

Week 41 Update: Driving Without Distraction ...

This past week was the first week in a long, long time, that I didn't make or take phone calls while driving. I've long found that time on the road to be ideal for catching up on missed calls and long overdue contacts. Likewise, it was the first time in ages that I've not checked my phone at a red light - you know, just in case I'd missed something since the last red light.

The thing is, I don't really want to talk on the phone or check for messages at red lights. I find it a bit stressful. Another instance of trying to do too much at once. You might ask: "Why did you do it, then?". Indeed. I guess because, just like everyone else, time feels as though it's flying by. There's a lot to be done in a day, and seemingly not enough time to do it in ...

This week, when I put the phone away, turned off Bluetooth and just drove, it was a bit of a relief. No phone calls. No 'giving in' to that incessant urge to check the phone. No distractions.

Hang on ... About that last point. That's not quite right. No distractions? Hardly the case, unfortunately.

The truth is, despite the phone being out of the picture, there were still plenty of opportunities for distraction. My 18 month old son in the backseat for a start. But then there were my thoughts. Of what to make for dinner. What challenge to set myself next for this blog. What I might teach in yoga during the week. The meaning of life. My noisy, noisy mind set out to derail me at every opportunity. Oddly enough, I find this to be moreso when I'm pregnant (as I am now). Why, I'm not so sure. But it seems to be so.

Well then, what to do? I think putting the phone away is a good start. As for my mind, I think I'll have to keep on that one: focusing my attention away from those incessant thoughts and back onto the task at hand - driving.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Week 41: Drive Time.

I know I'm not the only one guilty of using time in the car driving as 'down' time. It seems like a great opportunity to catch up on phone calls because, all of a sudden, we're not busy. Hmm... there's something wrong with that logic. We are busy. Very busy in fact. Busy driving. Busy keeping ourselves and those around us safe from the damage that can come from distraction on the road.

Sometimes I shock myself by how easily I will make a call (hands free of course) while driving. I'll even check my messages at a red light. But every time I do that, my mind shifts from what it should be doing - driving. And even though I might think I can do both things at once - talk and drive or check a text and then let it go until I have a chance to deal with it later - the truth is that my attention has been diverted and confused. I'm not as present as I could be (to either thing).

Just because I've been driving for over a decade doesn't mean I'm immune to making stupid decisions, not seeing an oncoming vehicle or a red light. I'm no superwoman. I'm not shielded from danger by some invisible energy field. When I look into the rear view mirror I'm reminded that it's not only my own safety I'm in charge of - it's that of my son in the back seat (and, now, the baby in my belly), too.

So, this week, I'm turning off my Bluetooth, I'm putting my phone out of sight, and I'm focusing on driving.

In the words of my son: "Beep, Beep!".

Week 40 Update: Three Minutes: Teeth, Distraction and ...

Three little minutes (probably less, actually). Time to focus on one thing - just one thing. Brushing my teeth. It should be easy, right? I mean, three minutes - that's nothing. If my attention span is so short that I can't focus on my teeth for three minutes then something's not quite right ...

Well then ... something's not quite right. It was hard work this past week to focus on nothing but brushing my teeth. I mean, I could put away a bunch of folded washing in that time. I could check my emails or Facebook. I could put on my socks. Still, I persevered. I was just surprised by how hard it was.

I think I'm going to use my teeth as an ongoing reminder. Three minutes, twice a day to act as a warning sign. If I'm struggling to focus for that long, I'm trying to do too much. I'm not being mindful.

I think this week was a good reminder for me that being mindful takes practice, perseverance and isn't always easy. Even when the 'task' seems utterly straightforward.