I'll be honest...as much as I make an effort to bring a mindfulness practice into my daily life, there's one central tenet of it that I totally suck at: meditation.
More often than not I have about 20 things on my mind. If I'm having a conversation with you, don't worry I'm totally listening, but I'm also multitasking - deciding on dinner, adding kale to my grocery list, thinking of a new blog post, remembering it's time to feed the dog, wondering what the weather will be like tomorrow - and oh yeah, back to the conversation.
When I try to meditate it's hard for me to shut all that down. Of course, that's the point of meditation, to take some time out of our hectic lives to shut that all down, even if it's just for a few minutes.
I try to meditate, and I always struggle.
In meditation you're not supposed to stress about the fact that all those thoughts have decided to interrupt your quiet time. Instead you observe them and watch them float by like passing clouds. It's kind of a fun exercise to think of them that way. But still, most of the time when I meditate it quickly becomes a full-on overcast, on-shore flow, gathering storm, kind of sky.
My solution to all this is BUDDHIFY. It's one of the few apps I've ever paid for, and it's worth way more than they charge.
The app provides a series of short, guided meditations, that are tailored to fit in where ever you are and with whatever you're doing. It helps turn any moment into a mindfulness moment. Some of my favorites are the "Flight" meditation for air travel and the "Thanks" meditation to help me sleep.
Meditation for me can be a challenging task, stopping everything in my mind to be totally quiet. This app helps me get there by using my thoughts as a guide rather than trying to stop them altogether. I can't recommend it enough.
(and no, they didn't pay me to say this)
There really is a lot of beauty in the world. But there's also a lot of shit.
It seems like they both come at us in waves - we find ourselves in periods of beauty that make us feel sky high, only to be dragged back down to earth, landing in a pile of shit.
These ups and down are natural and inevitable, and I know that without the darkness we'd never, really, truly be able to appreciate the happy glow of the light.
But while we're there, in the beauty or the shit or some place in-between, we often struggle to see the big picture.
When we're in the shit it's so easy to feel overwhelmed and make rash decisions. We’re angry, emotional, and unsettled, so we forget that there is still beauty.
When we're in the beauty we too often take it for granted. We enjoy the moment, but tend to forget that our future will hold even more beautiful moments, or that the shit will inevitably return.
Lately, I've confronted an internal battle between the mindfulness of now and the big picture that can be so unknown. I appreciate the fact that it's best to stay present, to accept my emotions as they are and for whatever they are, instead of allowing them to overtake me. It's always best to live in the moment rather than constantly wonder and worry about the future.
But I also think there is some value in taking a broad look forward, and even backward, from time to time.
Imagine you're fully within the shit. Difficult changes, bad decisions, work stress, struggling with people coming and going in your life. You might actually be somewhere in there right now so you don’t have to even imagine it. I'm there from time to time myself, we all are, more than most of us choose to admit.
Being present in that shit is a terrible place to be. As we try to mindfully accept and process our feelings rather than let them overtake us, that acceptance can make us feel even more shitty. Like it’s the new norm - this is it, learn to live with it.
On the other hand, imagine you're fully within the beauty. You're surrounded by good friends, smiling faces, beautiful vistas, and experiencing life altering inspirational events. You might actually be there right now so you don't even have to imagine it. I've been here a lot lately.
But even while we're there we don't always appreciate it. Acknowledging the fact that the shit is still out there and will inevitably return, doesn't have to take you out your moment of beauty, instead it gives you the gift of gratefulness. Acknowledging that there are more unimaginable moments of beauty yet to come in your life, encourages you to chase that beauty in all your decisions, to find your better life.
The idea of not being present in these types of moments actually gives me solace, and not in some escapist way. I look back at all the shit I've experienced in life and realize that this terrible thing, like all things, will eventually pass. I look back at all the beauty I've experienced and realize that this beautiful thing, like all things, will come around again. I look at the big picture - the entirety of both beauty and shit in my life - past, present, and future - and I feel grateful for having gone on the ride.
I realize this idea contradicts some of what I've said about being "present" on this blog, but I'm not one to stand still. Just as we move forward in life, through both beauty and shit, our mind and our heart and our spirit moves forward as well, learning from it all.
There's something wonderful about thinking of the big picture like this and using it to your advantage. It makes your present moment a bit more...chill.
If it’s a beautiful moment, seeing the big picture helps you avoid that nostalgic melancholy feeling you get when it’s over. If it’s a shitty moment, the big picture makes your problems seem a little smaller, a little more manageable. From either position in life, the big picture helps you learn how to better appreciate both the beauty and the shit for what they are - just another one of the many moments that together make up you.
In this way, looking at the big picture rather than always shrinking everything down to the right now, is just another form of mindfulness. It helps you to accept and observe and process your emotions, instead of wallowing in them until they make you feel worse.
Mindfulness isn't just about being present and leaving it at that, it's also about seeing the big picture and understanding that this present right here, it too shall pass.
I want to blend both the mindfulness and the big picture together. In a way that helps me stay chill during the angry moments and feel appreciation during the amazing moments. In a way that helps me drop the things that hold me back like worry, doubt, and regret. In a way that helps me accept both the beauty and the shit. In a way that, in the end, makes me a better person.
Too Much Information in the world today.
Not just the overly detailed gross TMI stuff, that’s obvious. I’m talking about the oversharing, over-tracking, and over-dependence on information that has quickly becoming ingrained in our everyday lives.
Smartphones are an amazing tool for so many aspects of life, but they can also become a burden. Thousands of apps can constantly collect data about where you go and what you do, or provide you with 24/7 access to pretty much anything you think you need to know - money and maps, stocks and sports, drivers, deals, and dates. But at some point all that info becomes a distraction, another set of chores to take care of every day, leading us to obsess and stress.
Search apps put every answer at our fingertips, but they also discourage the simple act of remembering. Map apps position every street and turn so we never have to know how to get anywhere again. Messaging apps put everyone at our fingertips so never have to actually recall how to make a call. A phone number, an address, a birthday... we don't need to remember any of that. Our digital pocket assistant knows all, so why bother.
Fitness bracelets, Apple Watch, and health tracking apps may help some people get in shape, but they can also provide you with so much information that they become counterproductive - at least it did for me. They track our steps...or they track our lack of steps causing us to stress about the lack of steps. They track our sleep...or track our lack of sleep causing us to stress about sleep...leading to even less sleep.
Updates, alerts, vibrations, summaries, transfers, pings.
Constant access, constant info.
Too much access, waaay too much info.
What about being present?
What about remembering instead of Googling?
What about walking instead of tracking?
What about talking instead of tapping?
What about using our brain in the here and now, instead of using our thumbs as an excuse to be everywhere else?
Like a dog that won't drop a toy
Worrying it back and forth
I can’t seem to drop this thought
Holding on is stressful
Clenching creates angst
Angst leads to turbulence
Worrying the mind into suspension
Letting go is a relief
Liberation creates space
Space leads to serenity
Unfencing the mind to run free
Don't worry it
Just let it go
"A journey isn't about expectation, it's about discovery." ~mindfulness now
A year ago today I launched Mindfulness Now. Boy does it make me happy to type that.
When I started this blog I had no idea where I’d be in life at this point. That’s always the case though. No matter how much we love to speculate, life just changes.
Did I know that in one year I would write 80 individual posts, collect over 35,000 pageviews, and get published in a pretty major online mindfulness website? I only dreamed of it. When I started this I wasn’t even sure if my close friends would pay attention, let alone 14,000 unique visitors (/humblebrag).
Did I know a year ago that this experience would lead me to quit my job so I could write and explore full-time? It wasn’t even on my radar. A funny thing happens when you get out of your comfort zone and follow your passion, instead of just going through the motions of life.
A year ago there were a number of things I hoped to get out of writing this blog. I wasn't exactly sure what I would find, but I'm trying not to fear the unknown so much these days. Now a year later, I’d like to believe all of these hopes came to fruition, or are at least in the process of growing their fruit.
Hope #1: Learn about myself by sharing a piece of myself
I had written in some form of a journal for years prior to this blog. Some of my first posts on this page were actual retreads of journal entries I'd written privately over the last few years.
It’s one thing though to write to yourself -- to take an idea that the world uncovers, filter it through your own mind, and put it on paper. It’s something entirely different to take those words a step further and put them out there on a website for all to see.
My introspective musings did help me to a degree, but it wasn’t until I started posting them here that I really began to really listen to them. Now that I was stating my ideas publicly, I felt pressure to stick to them. The blog kept me honest, grounded, and in touch with those around me.
Most of the feedback I heard was inspiring, and by inspiring others it inspired me to write more. The ideas I posted here suddenly held more weight in my own mind, and I was finally sticking to them.
HOPE #2 - Explore a new idea and see if it becomes a passion
The change in my mind was potent. I didn’t have to be restricted to one place, one thought, one group, or one desk. Writing made me feel free from the chains that society had put on me, and that I myself continued to wear.
This new found passion around writing spurred other related passions as well. Most notably, a passion for nature and outdoor activity. It spurred a renewal in old passions too, for things like music and dogs.
I have found a new and renewed set of joys, instruments that take me beyond my normal sphere. I found the start of a new path forward. I found my voice. Quite frankly, I found myself.
HOPE #3 - Gain confidence
Finding that voice was a big deal.
I tend to prefer things easy in life -- I search for comfort and routine and avoid conflict if I can. I like to think of myself as a peacemaker, but too often my peacefulness would morph into passivity. I would allow my life to pass by without really making an effort.
Writing this blog became the effort that I needed. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a public eye where confidence was required.
The process hasn't always been easy. Sometimes I feel like I'm overstepping. Some of my ideas have been questioned. Sometimes a friend would worry that a post was about them, even though I can assure you I would never single anyone out.
But finally, despite it all, I pushed forward with confidence. I pushed forward in life. I stopped listening to the negative. The sympathetic voices who got it, externally and internally, became louder than the voices of dissent.
I’m still working on this one and I figure I always will. But I'm so appreciative to have found an outlet that is taking me in the right direction.
HOPE #4 - Improve as a writer
As much as I always enjoyed writing to myself, even way back when, I hesitated in publishing this blog. I spent months fretting over it. Fear held me back.
I’ve found though that posting your words in a public space is a whole new motivation to write better. My private journal entries were free-flowing, riddled with inconsistencies, and lacking in structure. This blog required me to start looking at my writing with an increasingly keen eye.
There’s something about putting your feet to fire that forces you to learn more about fires and feet. I’ve learned as much about my own style and how to set myself up for a good writing session, as I’ve learned what people are drawn to, what they like to hear, and especially what they need hear.
I am certain the English majors of the bunch will find all sorts of errors in my writing, and that's OK. When I look back at blogs I wrote last summer, I definitely see an improvement, and for now that’s enough for me -- to keep improving.
HOPE #5 - Become more mindful
This is clearly the biggest hope I had from creating this blog -- it's in the title afterall. Mindfulness is the blood flowing through the veins of this space. Mindfulness now weaves it’s way into all my thoughts...and thank god, because I needed it.
I had read about mindfulness and attempted to integrate it into my life for years. But like most great ideas in life, it's easier said than done. I would tell myself to live in the present moment, to let go of the drama, worry, and anxiety, but when I inevitably failed I would scream at myself on the inside. I knew better, yet I still made mistakes. I couldn’t follow my own advice.
But here I am one year later, and light-years down my path. I am far from perfect, lord knows. I still struggle with these issues every day. But I believe I have indeed become more mindful in the last year. I’m more in-tune with myself, better able to handle life’s ups and downs, to reduce my distractions (digital or otherwise), to be more patient with my response, to disconnect more often, be smarter about my decisions, and braver when it comes to the difficult ones.
Starting Mindfulness Now was possibly the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and I can’t totally take credit for it because the idea came from Leo Babauta on his bellwether mindfulness blog Zen Habits. Also, gratitude goes to those friends and family who I discussed it with beforehand, for their support and especially the title suggestions.
All of that, all of them, all of you, all of the last year, all of my life, have led me to where I am now...someone who is learning, growing, passionate, confident, and just a little bit more mindful in the process.
This is why I call myself a journeyman (and not just for the solo camping journey hashtag). A journeyman is someone who is educated but not yet a master. I know a good deal about the tool of mindfulness, but I’m still learning how to use it every day.
I might argue that we are all journeymen. I might argue that no one is ever a true master, because we’re all always learning. I might argue that this is one of my favorite things about life.
I now have a few years of mindfulness experience under my belt, one year that you’ve been privy to. Thinking about how far I’ve come in the last year with this blog gives me joy. Thinking of how far I’ll go throughout the journey of my life kind of blows my mind.
And I can't wait to tell you all about it.