Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Mindful Year, A More Mindful Life?

My 52 week challenge has come to an end. The final challenge now behind me, I've taken some time to think about where I've come from, what I've 'seen' and where I've landed.

Has a year of living more mindfully changed me? Am I 'better' at being mindful than I was this time last year? Do I like myself more? Do other people? These questions are kind of big ... I'm not sure I can do them justice with a good answer. Even so, I'll do my best.

Yes, I think I am changed, but maybe only subtly.

Yes, I am 'better' at being mindful, but I'm certainly not at a place where my every moment is mindful (or even the majority of them).

I like myself more ... sometimes.

Other people? I have no idea - though I did ask my husband if he'd noticed a difference in me. He declared that he couldn't really tell. He is, after all, with me so often it's hard to get the 'distance' to see change. But then he paused for a moment and said: "actually, I haven't gotten in trouble the last few months - even when I probably deserved it". This, to me at least, was significant. Maybe I am slower to snap now than I was. Maybe I give myself a chance to consider before I respond. Maybe, just maybe, I have changed.

Regardless of the answers to these questions, I know one thing for sure: my life feels better when it's lived in the moment. Even if it's not every moment, knowing that I'm capable of turning off the distractions (whether internal or external) is huge. I still have a way to go, though. As I type, I have no fewer than five internet tabs open (though I'm not flicking between them the way I once would); the television is on, though it's not my focus. I just stopped mid-post to take a phone call from my sister.

There are times when I choose to be less than 100 per cent mindful and there are times when I give what I'm doing my all.

But I always have a choice.

My 52 week challenge may be over, but my mindfulness quest is far from complete. The next year will no doubt be full of just as many challenges as this year has held, if not more. I have another baby on the way, a new blog to launch,a yoga business to continue running, a Masters degree to complete. My aim is to live every day of my life as mindfully as possible. Mindfulness has become like a 'reset' switch for me - returning me to a level field, giving me perspective, giving me space to be however I am in the moment.

Thank you for sharing the past 52 weeks with me. I hope you'll come on over to my new blog and visit me there. Details coming very soon!

Week 52 Update: Christmas, Oh Christmas.

Christmas week has been and gone. What a whirlwind.

My aim this week was to experience Christmas more mindfully than I have in recent years - focusing on being present rather than worrying about what things might be like. I did okay. I saw, regularly, my normal dialogue about Christmas bubbling up: too expensive, too commercial, too busy, too many expectations, too stressful. I saw them, I faced them, and I did my best to drop them and be in the moment instead.

It worked, at least a little. I probably felt the most relaxed this Christmas that I have in a long time (and that was with a grand total of about two hours sleep the night before). While my eye did wander towards the clock and my mind did remind me of the places I needed to be, the people I needed to see, I was also able to sit back, enjoy the food and company, and forget about what might be.

Even so, I won't pretend I got it perfect. After all, perfect isn't my aim (nor is it realistic!). But, like I've said many times, being mindful has a lot to do with simply making the effort and remembering to do it. I remembered enough to make my Christmas experience far more enjoyable. I hope yours was, too.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Week 52: A Mindful Christmas and The (Non)End Of A Journey.

Week 52. Seriously? Week 52 already?

I'm almost hesitant to write this post. Can I really be at the end of my 52 week challenge to live more mindfully? I have so much more to explore and learn, so much more to see.

Heading into this challenge I always knew the first 52 weeks would only be the start. After all, living mindfully isn't something you suddenly 'get' and do automatically. It's something that takes continued and continuous effort. It's something I'll be working with and on for the rest of my life.

Fifty-two weeks have set me off well, though. I have 52 challenges under my belt - plenty to return to, plenty to explore again and again.

Still time for one more challenge though, and given it's Christmas this week, I know just the thing.

In years past, I'll admit to being quite the Scrooge. I loved Christmas growing up - it was simple, full of family tradition, love and food.

Then I grew up, the magic faded, family life got complicated and Christmas became busy, expensive and stressful.

Christmas day itself became something I had to survive, not something I looked forward to.

Ugh, I dislike that sentence a lot. When did I turn into this grinch? Where did my Christmas spirit go?

I think the answer to that is this: I started to focus on the projections in my mind, rather than the unknown reality ahead of me.

With so much to do, so much money to spend, so many people to see and please, my focus landed squarely on thoughts like these: "Oh, I don't know why I bother, they never like my gifts anyway", "It's going to be so rushed, it's no fun", "I'm already exhausted and it hasn't even started ... this is going to be hard".

Instead, couldn't I have gone into it the way I like to step onto my yoga mat? Which way is that, you ask? With beginner's eyes. I like to step onto my mat as though I've never stepped onto it before: each session, each pose being experienced as though for the first time. No expectations. Could I do the same for Christmas?

I think so. At least, I'm going to try. Already this year I feel my Christmas spirit returning. I'm positive it has a lot to do with my little boy who loves the excitement he can feel building. But it's more than that - I think my year of more mindful living has a lot to do with it, too. I'm in a place now where I feel like I can drop those expectations a little, where I can settle into 'being' rather than sitting in the corner feeling sorry for myself. While I still think Christmas is expensive and busy (two things I don't love), I can also see beyond that (though surely there's a way to simplify? Maybe I can explore that next year ...).

As I head into Christmas week, I'm going to try to do it mindfully. As I plan, bake, eat, interact, give and receive, I'll do my darndest to be there in the moment, not in some story I've woven in my mind. I encourage you to do the same! Christmas, joyful as it can be, can also be a source of stress and distress for people ... Can mindfulness take the edge off that? I think so; I hope so. It's certainly worth a try.

I'll be back at the end of the week to report on week 52. In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas x

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Week 51 Update: Learning Something New Can Be Hard To Do.

What was I thinking? Learn something new ... ok, ok, seems reasonable enough. But maybe I should have gone with pottery after all. Or learning French. Building a website - who thought that was a good idea?

My week of 'learning something new' got off to a mindfully-challenged start. Instead of finding myself absorbed in what I was doing, I was threatening to throw my laptop at the wall. I was anxious, frustrated, angry ... in short, I felt utterly incompetent and I didn't like that one bit.

I was surprised by how much this challenge impacted me. I mean, it's a website - hardly earth-shattering, not terriblly important in the grand scheme of things. People build them all the time. I wasn't even building from scratch, so what was the problem?

I learned a bit about myself through the week, though, not all of it very pretty. I learned that I like to be good at what I do (don't we all) and that I have a tendency to be rather harsh on myself when I'm not as good as I think I should be. Then, towards the end of the week I learned this: everything changes, nothing stays the same. Even website building.

For days I struggled, cursed and moaned as I took whatever chunks of time I could to nut my way through this project. I worked hard, lost my work, got angry. Repeat. Then something clicked. I had it! (well, not all of it, but part of it). Suddenly I popped out of the dark, musty cave of a place I was in and into the sunshine where everything seemed much clearer. I had it! I wasn't so silly after all! An old(ish) dog can learn new tricks! Hooray!

Finally, I was absorbing myself in my project in a good way (gone was the urge to hurl the laptop). Mindfulness came in bursts and waves. My website is on the way. I still have little idea of what I'm doing, but I've found the breadcrumbs that lead the way. I'm learning, I'm doing, I'm actually having a bit of fun.

Learning something new can be really hard to do. But it can also be fun and totally worth it. Just be prepared for the dark cave bit at the beginning!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Week 51: Learning Something New

Rock climbing, anyone? How about white water rafting, knitting, painting, gardening or applique?

Learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby or taking a class - these are well-accepted ways of experiencing mindfulness.

Why? Well, maybe it's a little bit easier to be mindful when you're doing something new and unfamiliar - you have to give it so much attention that you don't tend to operate on auto-pilot the way you might in other scenarios.

When I thought about setting myself this 'Do Something New' challenge quite a few weeks ago, I considered how nice it would be to try my hand at pottery or crochet - something well outside my comfort zone; something lovely and creative. Instead, it's going to be website building. Yep - building a website (for my new blogging venture in 2014 - The (Non)Sense Of It!). Definitely new, definitely challenging, definitely outside my comfort zone.

Will it help me be more mindful? Or will it drive me up the wall with frustration as I nut my way through it? Time will tell ...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Week 50 Update: Reminders Help ... So Do Other People.

I stuck mindfulness reminders up throughout the house this week. Little notes imploring me to 'Be Here, Now'; prompts to make me consider 'Where's Your Head At?'; subtle suggestions of 'Now, Now, Now'.

My theory was that these visual cues would help keep me on track on a general level, being more mindful as I moved throughout my day. They worked, at least as much as they could. I was reminded in the kitchen to be present, reminded in the bathroom as I brushed my teeth. As I played with my son, these words looked down on us, urging us to be in the moment.

Then there was this one day, when everything seemed hard. I was feeling overwhelmed, tired, uncomfortable. I was letting myself get away from myself.

My little mindfulness reminders mocked me. I was getting carried away.

A phone call with my husband pulled me back a little closer to reality, reminded me that everything was temporary.

My lesson here? That even with the best intentions, even when we try, sometimes our minds still wreak havoc on us. Sometimes we need the gentle (or not so gentle) words of perspective from another person. Sometimes we have to accept that we aren't or won't be present all of the time... We have to be kind with ourselves, gently easing back into the moment, recognising that we haven't failed - we're just learning.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Week 50: Trying to Remember.

Sometimes, the hardest thing about being mindful is simply remembering to do it. I mean, there are so many things to think about, do, be, that you'd be forgiven for forgetting about mindfulness altogether. Kind of like the way you forget the milk at the shops or the washing on the line.

I'll admit that over the past 50 weeks, I have forgotten about my weekly challenges here and there. Some have been easier to remember than others. Which brings me to this week's challenge ...

This week, I'm cracking out the post-it notes and the thick markers. I'm going to give myself some visual reminders about being mindful. I'll stick them up around the house (given that's where I spend 90% of my time) where I can see them as I go about my day. They will be simple visual cues to remind me to be here, now.

My hope is that these little memos will help me to be present in what I'm doing (as much as possible) - whether it be playing with my son, doing the dishes, drinking a cuppa or having a shower.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Week 49 Update: Shoulders Have No Place By Your Earlobes.

I am not alone in mindlessly holding tension in  my body. Wearing shoulders as earrings, grinding teeth, furrowing brows, clenching fists ... we do it without realising. We do it all the time. It doesn't feel good, though, does it?

This week I set out to notice and soften any time I found myself holding tension where it didn't need to be. Simple, really, but not easy. To stop and notice requires a pause - something that we don't love to do in this busy world of ours. But it only takes a moment - a moment to say "look there at my teeth grinding/shoulders hunching/fists clenching" and then soften. I did this far too many times throughout the week to count - but seven days later, my jaw feels 'easier' than it did, I'm far more tuned into the tension when it arises, and I've appreciated those regular moments to check in and ask myself "how are you, Erica?"

How often do you stop to ask yourself that question? To really notice how you're doing? The tension-holding gives us a clue, as does our ability to soften. It's worth the moment(s) it takes to pause. Very worth it, indeed.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Week 49: Shoulders Are Not Earrings.

How often do you find your shoulders hanging around somewhere near your earlobes? If you're like many people I know, you'll find them that way a lot. As a yoga teacher I repeat the phrase 'soften your shoulders' umpteen times a week. I often pair this up with a gentle hand on the offending shoulders and I can immediately see tension drain from the upper body.

Tight, tense shoulders are hardly unusual. We tend to live with it and claim "I can't help it!" when it's brought to our attention. But what if we checked in - time and time again - and softened them every time we noticed them higher than they should be?

For years and years I was a shoulder-tension-holder. These days I seem to have a firmer stance with them and they behave a good lot of the time. Now, though, I find the tension sitting in my jaw or that space between my eyes.

It's the same thing and requires the same treatment - repeated 'checking in' and softening. It might mean checking in tens or even hundreds of times per day ... but it's well worth it. Not only does it feel better not to hold this tension so frequently, it's also a perfect opportunity to assess how you are in any given moment. As you check in with your shoulders/jaw/eyebrows/hips/fists (whatever is your tension storage house), it's a chance to make an assessment on a greater scale. Tight? What can you let go of? Relaxed? Awesome - do more of that.

So, this week it's all about checking in on the tension. Check, soften, repeat. Lots of little mindful moments.