'Tis the season for many things. Lots of things. Too many things.
One of the biggest things is the giving and receiving of gifts. This can be wonderful -- reminding us to be thoughtful of others and show our appreciation. But it can also be difficult -- leading to overwrought feelings of expectation and a covetous impulse.
Instead of allowing the holiday stress get the better of us, let's try something new. Let's give ourselves a gift this holiday season.
The gift of mindfulness. The gift of peace.
Among the parties, house guests, and card lists, there's room for presence. Throughout the decorating, cleaning, and cooking, there's space for calm. Even in the crowded parking lots, shopping malls, and freeways, there is room for kindness.
The peace we seek during this, or any stressful time is always up to us.
So this is my mindfulness challenge to you: for the rest of this month take a little time out of each day to be present-- take a little time to find peace.
Start simple... give yourself the gift of a short mindfulness break. Set your phone timer for one minute, close your eyes, and just listen to your breath.
Be patient with your yourself. Sometimes when life is busy and you're feeling overwhelmed, even one minute seems like an eternity. But giving yourself even that one minute of peace will leave you feeling renewed and ready to tackle that shopping list again.
You'll find the benefits of this short practice will radiate out from you like warmth from your winter heater. The peace you show will rub off on others. The peace you find will help you find more peace yourself. The peace that comes from mindfulness is a gift that keeps on giving.
Give yourself this gift at least once every day now until the New Year. Turn this peace break into your intention. Mark it down in your calendar and set a reminder to help keep you in check.
Make being present with yourself your present to yourself.
I never spilled my water while I was on my journey.
Camping, especially camping alone, gives you a different perspective. Regular world comforts provide us a cushy freedom to make mistakes - an oversize pillow to land on when we fall. But when you're in the woods there is no cushion - you land with a thud. This new reality causes a shift - it creates focus.
When it came to water, every wasted drop meant more effort to collect it again later. Every wasted drop meant I might run out of water somewhere down the line.
So I focused on collecting my water efficiently. I only focused on collecting that water and nothing else, because nothing else actually mattered. Thinking about other tasks was a distraction, and distractions can lead to mistakes.
Now I’m home and I immediately fall back into old patterns. At the water dispenser I fill my cup so high that it splashes out. I do this routinely. I don't focus, I multitask, I'm thinking down the line.
Multitasking is trendy, but dare I say multitasking is wasteful. Instead of putting all your effort into one important task you spread it out over many. Instead of doing one thing well, you half-ass a bunch of things.
My to-do list perpetuates the distraction, making me think I have multiple things to get done so I should work on as many things as possible. But they don’t help me get more done. My mind is spread out and unfocused. My effort is diluted.
The lesson of the forest is to be present in your current state. The lesson is mindfulness.
I choose to heed the call. I choose to fill, not spill, my water. I choose to engage the task at hand - successfully complete it or fail and learn from it - and only then do I move on.
I will make mistakes - I’ll overfill my water from time to time because that’s my habit. But now every time I do that it will serve as a reminder. Each drop of water that falls to the ground is a tap on the shoulder telling me to be present.
Mindfulness isn't merely about observing your feelings and leaving it at that, mindfulness is how we choose to engage the world through our everyday actions.
Next time you fill up your water cup, next time you're doing anything really, remember to be present.
In every task there is mindfulness.
It might come as a surprise to you considering I'm posting these very words on a very public blog, but I'm not always so good at expressing myself, especially not in-person. I tend to be thoughtful in what I say, overly-thoughtful at times, because when I say something I want to really mean it.
Not only does it take me a while to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it, but even after I've said it, I often immediately think of how I could have said it better.
This blog is easy, because I can edit something for days, weeks, and sometimes months (seriously, there are a few screeds I've been editing since last July and they're still not ready to be posted), I can even edit my posts after they've been published, which is good (I enjoyed rethinking my post about Boyhood last week) and bad (I edit my posts after they've been published ad nauseam).
Real life doesn't give you an edit button. Once you say something, it's out there. That permanence bothers me. All permanence bothers me. I'm fluid, I live on change, or at least I live on the hope that things will always change, eventually.
The digital age makes it worse--it encourages us to self-edit and filter our lives to present a certain image.
But putting your thoughts out there, telling people how you feel, and being your honest self are all extremely important aspects of mindfulness. It's the difference between being present and speaking your mind, or worrying about the future so you throttle your voice.
Honesty doesn't mean you have to be an asshole either, spouting off the first thought that comes to mind no matter how hurtful. I'm certainly not advocating against tact. There are plenty wonderfully caring people who are present and true to themselves and honest in what they say. I'd like to think I'm someone who is kind. but a little more reserved. We all fall somewhere in the spectrum.
More and more, I've learned the importance of expressing myself, openly, fully, outwardly. It can be uncomfortable, but it's oh so important.
This blog is an exercise in expressing myself. I've been writing my thoughts down for a while now in private, and that's another way I express myself. In the last few years I've made more of an effort to foster open dialogs with the people I love, from my family to my partner to my friends. At times I've specifically made an effort to stop and think, "why do I enjoy spending time with this person?" I write down the answer and then I tell that friend in-person so they know how much they mean to me.
I've found that the more open I am with others—the more I express myself—the more true and honest expressions I get back. This might be the biggest benefit of it all, because when I'm honest and tell someone about my anger, joy, anxiety, or contentment, they're more likely to be honest to me, tell me how they feel, and we start a dialog. It brings us closer together as friends, as family, as partners in life.
This is my March monthly challenge to you: EXPRESS YOURSELF
Every morning this month, pause and remind yourself to be more honest—let people into your life, think about how you filter yourself on social media, be honest with yourself, and write down how you feel.
That expression, that acknowledgment of who you are, that's how you grow. It helps you process your emotions and become more mindful.
Write something down that's true about yourself. Right now. Pick up the phone, send an email, or punch out a text to a friend to tell them why you love them. Right now. Notice how good it feels to get that off your chest.
It's really easy to see the faults in your life and think, "yeah, I totally want to fix that." It’s a whole other thing to actually go in there and start fixing it. That's because changing a habit is hard, especially all the super unmindful habits that’ve grown out of the digital age. Sometimes we need a trick to help us stick to it.
Enter mindfulness cues
As each of us goes throughout our day, we can use reminders or triggers to remove distractions and the stress they create.
This is my new challenge to you: set aside a specific time every day to be mindful. Choose something you already do and turn it into a mindfulness cue.
Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, I charge my phone. What if I used that as a time for mindfulness? Instead of standing next to the charging area, continuing to tap away at Facebook, Instagram, or Gmail, what if I set the phone down and leave it alone? Instead of picking up my iPad as an alternative, what if I used that moment to breathe and be present?
Phone charging time is now my mindful time. It's a reminder to stop distracting myself with the wealth of mindless activities our over-connected world has to offer and start living in the real world, the here and now.
When it’s time to recharge my phone, it’s also time to recharge my mind.
And I'm posting this here publicly so my friends can keep me honest. Letting other people know you're trying to change a habit helps you stick to it, because they can give you shit when you start to waiver. Never underestimate the power of a healthy guilt trip.
So choose something that works for you. When you use the bathroom, leave the iPad on the counter. When you eat breakfast in the morning, close the laptop lid. When you have lunch at work, don't have it at your desk. When you're waiting for a friend to arrive at dinner, look around you instead of at your phone. There are a million different moments in your life that could act as a mindfulness cues. The possibilities are endless.
It's so easy to forget, but every moment of every day is chance to find peace and the power to do it is right there inside you. Try using your everyday life to remind you of it, and see how much that reminder can help you get there.
I’ll be honest, I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. If we are the thoughtful, sentient beings we claim to be, shouldn't we be able to make a change in our life any day we choose? That change is up to us, not a calendar.
But I also know it’s important to people. The end of one year and start of another (even if the calendar was semi-arbitrarily determined by some Romans a few thousand years ago) is a milestone in our society.
A milestone like New Year's can be a trigger that encourages us to better ourselves, and that’s always a good thing, That is, if it’s done right.
There are a number of problems that can come from relying on a date like New Year’s to trigger a set of big life changes. Here are 3 big ones:
So if you're currently working through the starting phases of a New Years resolution, and by all means do, be smart about it:
A wise woman once shared a mantra with me. It's one of happiness and love. There are different versions of this to be found on the internet, but here it is as I learned it.
You start by blessing those you love:
May they be safe. May they be strong. May they be happy.
Next you bless everyone, whether you love them or not:
May we be safe. May we be strong. May we be happy.
Then you finish by pointing this back to yourself:
May I be safe. May I be strong. May I be happy.
The only person you can control is you. The only Facebook rant reaction you can change is your own. The only comment board opinion you have power over yours.
You're in charge of your mood. You're in charge of the path you take.
The energy you send out into the world is up to you.
I believe that when you do good, when you hand out smiles instead of scowls, peace signs instead of birds, hugs instead of hatred, that those acts are addictive. Others pick up on them and return the favor or pass it along.
This mantra doesn't necessarily change the safety, strength, or happiness of others. Just as you're in charge or your reaction, everyone else is in charge of theirs.
This mantra simply reminds you to change your viewpoint. Start putting happiness out into the world and then maybe, just maybe, that happiness will point back at you.
Every Friday at 5pm, for the past 4 or so years, a calendar alert reminds me of this little mantra. I repeat it a few times to remind myself to spread happiness. To do so even when I'm stressed, even when I'm angry at someone, even when I don't want to smile.
Happiness inspires happiness. All the peace I wish for the world and for myself can found right here within me, as long as I'm willing to put it out there.
Take a moment out of your day, your week, your month, to wish the world some happiness. Do it in a prayer, a mantra, or simply a kind thought. I doubt we'll create world peace, but hell, it's a start.
It seems at least a few times a month I hear from someone who's considering a digital detox.
You look at the current world: notifications, apps, websites, emails, gmails, texts, tumblr, twitter, tinder, facebook, secret, instagram, hangouts, facetime, games, youtube, netflix, stream this, download that.
And then you look back to the days before all ^that^. Just 10 years ago we lived in a world that, for the most part, existed right in front of you instead of through the looking glass of the latest fad digital device.
There's a lot of problems to be found in today's digital world:
So you're stressed out, depressed, lonely, pissed off. Time to cut the digital cord, right? WRONG.
Long before the Internet existed, Buddha had this to say about it:
“From craving grief arises,
Deleting your Facebook account is like chopping off a huge limb of a tree. It immediately feels lighter, it lets the sunlight in, it's refreshing. But the roots, the problems you found in Facebook, they're all still there. The tree will grow back, you'll either reactivate your account or find another similar outlet. The addiction, loneliness, and jealousy continues.
Digital detox is a purge after years of binge. It's going from one extreme to another without dealing with the root of the problem.
Why not take a moderate approach? Take some small steps every day to prune the tree of our digital addiction:
My monthly challenge for August was to turn off notifications for non-essential apps. In September, I'm going to take this one step further: I'm logging out.
I'm not going to delete my Facebook account, I actually enjoy it and friendships and other connections I have there. But I also don't want it to be a distraction. I don't want it to feel consuming, to be the first thing I do when I'm bored and the last thing I do at night. I want trim the tree a little every day -- make my social media use smaller, more casual.
For at least 2 hours every day I'm logging out of Facebook and Instagram. Just a small pruning. Just a little a barrier between me and distraction.
I challenge you all to do the same. Give it a try for one month, start with something small and easy. If at the end of the month it's made no difference in your life, then by all means log back in and let your phone buzz at you. Either way, you'll learn something about yourself. No harm no foul.
This week, Facebook began requiring everyone to use the Messenger app to send messages from their phone, replacing the all-in-one Facebook app most had been using. A conversation about this with a friend really got me thinking...
The Messenger app has a proclivity to repeatedly encourage users to turn on app notifications. I get what they're doing, they want this app to be a replacement for the basic text message, a stand-alone means of instant communication. It's always on, notifying you of every little message, goading you to constantly look at your phone so you can giggle at the latest clever communiqué from a friend.
But is this really necessary? Do we need to be always on?
Consider this scenario: you're at dinner with a friend, phone in your pocket, having a great conversation, connecting with another human being. You are present and living in only that moment. But then your phone buzzes because of a new Facebook message. It immmeadiately interrupts your mindfulness. You wonder, "was the message important? Should I check my phone? When is a good time to check my phone? Do you think my friend will mind if I check my phone?" With that one little buzz, you are no longer present, you aren't really at that dinner, and the friend your dining with has no idea.
Mindfulness tells us to live in the moment, but when your notifications are always on you're always one buzz away from distraction.
Notifications are making us less mindful, so I've decided to turn notifications OFF for the month of August.
I encourage anyone who wants to find more mindfulness in their life to do the same.
I'll still get notifications for calls and texts, because those are used to communicate more immediate needs. But Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Gmail, and Twitter are all going silent. Nothing that anyone says through those mediums ever requires my immediate attention, yet for years I've allowed them to immediately interrupt me whenever I get an email or a like.
Make August your month of mobile mindfulness. Stop letting those notifications get to you whenever they want. You'll get to them when you get to them.