Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Taking the Lift

Do your work weeks resemble downhill runs on a giant slalom?

Mine did. Thankfully, Monday’s usually started out a little slow. (At worst, they felt like a ski jump — zip-aieee!) Wednesday’s picked up the pace, and I dodged flimsy obstacles disguised as meetings. By Friday I’d be screaming downhill praying not to crash before my deadline and the weekend.

I didn’t feel in control. Every day from morning until bedtime, habits, routines, and obligations, life’s equivalent of gravity, had me in their grip and yanked me downhill until I hit terminal velocity.

Don’t get me wrong; life wasn’t all bad. Actually, the thing is, a part of me kinda liked it.

It was fun to zip headlong through the week. It made me feel important and wanted. When I met my deadlines, got the kids to all their activities, and still had time for Game of Thrones, it made me feel like an Olympian — masterful.

The problem (you see it coming, right?) is that it didn’t go that way often enough. More times than not, I’d end up scrambling after a new deadline, weaving through traffic yelling at my stressed-out kids and the jerk who just cut me off, and wondering, “What am I doing?”

Unlike the Olympics, my downhill lifestyle didn’t end after three runs and ninety seconds of nerve-wracking excitement. It kept going. And even though it’s exciting, I noticed that the days blurred together as much as scenery going by at ninety miles an hour. Life is short enough, and no matter how thrilling, to lose so much of it to speed proved untenable.

Taking the Lift

I needed to change my life to match the way winter athletes preserve their performance. Once a skier speeds across the finish line in her magnificent spray of snow, there’s a built-in break. She has to ride the lift back up.

While taking the lift, review the last run from a new, higher perspective

Downtime is built into the process. While taking the lift, a skier relaxes and takes in the scenery around him. He reviews the track and his last run from a new, higher perspective. He takes the time to rest, reflect, and plan, which is what everyone, not just an athlete, needs in order to perform at their best week after week. What my ragged nerves needed was an opportunity for retreating a little from life’s frenetic pace.

Mindfulness

So, for my “Taking the Lift” I looked into meditation or mindfulness, which is more than just resting. It’s a conscious, nonjudgmental focus on one’s body and surroundings. The practice has grown over the past few years as it has gained scientific backing and become more mainstream. It’s a simple meditation method that can be associated with a spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s no need for a mantra or indoctrination into a religion. All it takes is a little time and some patience.

You really don’t even have to give up the excitement and thrill of working hard or only work half-days. To have a beneficial effect, even a brief, 10-minute daily practice can result in better thinking and anxiety control (Moore, Gruber, Derose, & Malinowski, 2012.) There is one caveat: to reap maximum benefits of mindfulness, it truly needs to be a practice, meaning that it must occur regularly and often. So, it’s not a once a week kind of thing. It’s daily.

Journaling

But what if sitting in dark rooms and simply being aware of your breathing sounds boring because you feed on activity? Perhaps keeping a journal is more your style. Journaling is less touchy-feely method for “taking the lift,” and allows those who enjoy structured, strategic processes to direct their focus on accomplishments, gratitude, and reflect more deeply on what they’re committed to doing better.

Don’t think that this is just another article about being a better worker. Like mindfulness, keeping a journal provides more benefit to practitioners than improved productivity. Personal writing is yet another way to recover from and cope with anxiety and stress. It is another way to “take the lift,” restore your body and mind, plus preserve your physical health.

Everyone knows that athletes need to train their bodies, but what about their emotional side? Annie Hart, an Olympic cross-country skier, uses journaling to work through the mental aspect of high-pressure racing. In an interview for FasterSkier.com, an on-line magazine, she talked about having “a really hard time shaking off bad races, and ended up carrying negative feelings from one weekend to the next. And I can tell you that there is no amount of physical training that can surmount that.”

The magic of daily journaling works for everyone: introverts, extroverts, athletes, or writers. Whenever the gravity of your days has been hurtling you downhill so fast that you feel out of control, take a few minutes to write about what’s bothering you. Shake out your feelings onto the safe privacy of the page and explore some possibilities for improving your life.

Shake out your feelings onto the safe privacy of the page

However you decide to integrate “taking the lift” into your daily life, whatever method: mindfulness, journaling or something else, it won’t always be easy. No matter what it is you choose, there will be days when you will not want to do it. Days when you’ll be tired, angry, or perhaps in pain. That’s when you fall back on habit and ritual — it’ll get you through the crashes, injuries, or defeats that are sure to come.

Crashes, injuries, or defeats are sure to come

Make your start by identifying with your practices. In the same way you identify with being someone who’s on time for work, or being someone who values family. In your mind, become the kind or person who meditates. Be someone who journals. By identifying yourself with your practice, it will grow to become part of who you are, not something separate. This way, you’re not reliant on anything so fickle as willpower. Just be yourself.

Not everyone can be an Olympic athlete, but all us, even the most sedate desk-jockey, can be under difficult pressures and technological advances have turned many of us in the modern working world into downhill racers. Rather than continually speeding through life, be like those admirable men and women in Pyeong Chang and remember to Take the Lift after each run: relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.

 

Baright Library Poetry Reading

Here are the seven poems that I read for the Ralston, Baright Library Reading. I hope everyone enjoys them. They were a joy to write and a pleasure to read.

Resting on black haunches in the shadows

Weeds

Grew taller when I was a boy

beneath the humid heart of Texas.

Adventure crouched in the dappled

shade cast by broad green leaves,

where I sought monsters through sultry heat.

I knew them by their chipped green

scales or rust-orange armor as they

rested on black haunches in the shadows,

waiting to feed on heroes like me.

Red augers, rising brontosaurus

necks lifted above the jungle weeds,

felt the terrible slice of my cypress

sword and thrust of sugar cane lance.

Across the accursed land, treasure

after treasure and dozens of thankful

damsels were freed from taloned

clutches—just in the nick of time.

In the fields and lots no one tends,

creatures still lurk in the shade of

velvet leaf, bindweed, and fleabane.

Squint your eyes just so and you

will see chrome grimaces and grills

of forgotten menace, waiting for heroes like you.

 

Gingilos dreams of white foam on shallow blue seas.

Musing Over Stone: Mt Gingilos, Crete

Lost time rains on my spirit

and beads on its white feathers,

then I wake to find dew on my bed.

A watery sky arches above me

and mountainous silhouettes

strain for what nobody knows.

I rise from my nylon nest,

half-asleep on unsteady feet,

shivering in the mountain’s shadow.

A fleece shirt buffers the chill,

but nothing need warm my spirit,

ready for its climb in the sun.

 

Gray expanses fall at my waiting feet,

great eyelids sealed over ages of sleep,

their lashes of grass touching the seam

of talus and earth. I imagine, beneath

the blocky grit, Gingilos dreams

of white foam on shallow blue seas.

When my fingers brush the layered dust

on that vital first hold, time seeps

through my skin, slow as the glacier

that groaned past this place

ten thousand years before I awoke.

The eons enter my restless blood

and grind my bones to dust.

 

Cosmic clocks have only moments

of time for me, so I edge upward,

across the face, shifting my weight,

focusing hold to hold. I rise—

a mist of fog—leaving hardly

a trace to remember, soon to evaporate

in the first rays of morning sun.

A thousand feet higher, my heart dizzies

at the vista. Each vertical step

has drawn back the horizon. From here

I glimpse the truth: I am a dust mote,

with an ego large as the star that birthed it.

 

Pausing on a ledge wide as my foot,

I dip my hands into a bag of chalk

belted to my waist. Wisps of white powder

drift away on the wind, disappear

into inner space, part of something

larger—different somehow.

Like me—yesterday.

A thousand feet further on,

at the peak, I breathe cool air,

smell the pines’ tang on the wind,

but their sharpness quickly dulls;

taut senses fall slack off the edge.

The risk—skin in the game—keeps

every tenuous hour precious,

and my spirit above the ground.

The bright rope, running untangled and free, reminds us our fate is tied to one another.

Rope

drapes around my feet,

like an old, faithful dog.

It ties us to this vertical stage

we dance upon as we perform

our rising, brutal ballet for

no one but ourselves.

We push and pull our way

upward in turns, minds

focused and taut, hearts

soothed within the harmony

of rock, line, and movement.

We and the rope knot our fists

against gravity’s strong current,

as each man ascends alone:

lost in the stone’s sharp grit,

the impulsive voice of the wind,

and the silent distance below.

The bright rope, running

untangled and free, reminds us

our fate is tied to one another.

Rope binds us like blood:

woven with faith, unfrayed by fear,

made brave by love.

Under the scornful weight of her near defeated will, she pushes on in hope.

Sisyphus

She envelops the chair across

the desk from me, glancing

up with eyes a little wide

and a wrinkled, hopeful brow.

 

She’s sat in places like this

a hundred times. The pattern,

like a millstone, has worn

a groove in her life;

she no longer sees an escape.

 

Her fight against foraging

in aisles laden with chips

and freezers of custard

regenerates unchanged

as Cosmo mocks her

through the checkout.

 

Still, under the scornful weight

of her near defeated will,

from far behind every

short, gasping breath,

She pushes on in hope.

 

She begs for freedom’s taste,

to walk swift, with grace,

down any street, path, or aisle,

to turn her head and maybe–

see an admiring face.

 

I proffer my open hand,

choosing to be caught

in her endless task

that’s likely too large

for either of us to push aside.

It is my curse to try.

Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Take This Moment

Stand beside rippling water
running shallow over glacial sand.
Feel your blood fall into steady
rhythms to match the low whisper
of water moving through the reeds.

Breathe deep, expand your caged body
into fall skies etched with cirrus;
expand beyond the branches
of ash and cottonwood that stretch
sleeping buds into the distant blue.

Fall into the slow march of this world
where time slides by and nothing cares
where it’s from, nor where it goes:
grasses go dormant; water turns to ice;
rocks grind to loess, and bones turn to stone.

Drink this tiny sip of God’s eternity,
feel how it whets your thirsty soul,
set your roots under the mud
and feed from the layers of the land.
Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Old Gods

shuffle into the cobbled piazza

dressed in loose brown tweed

and slouching hats that hide

eyes dark with loss.

They sink onto wrought iron

benches below the silent campanile

and toss crumbs of stale grace

from paper sacks to adoring flocks,

pink-footed believers who never

seem sated as they preen and mill

about their gods’ leather soled feet

heads cocked, eyeing for more.

Selfie

Shuffle through the streets,

careful not to trip and fail,

a splash in Trevi fountain.

Look up, “Oh! A cute kitty!

Cup the phone in your palm

hold it at arm’s length,

compose your personal emoji:

cock your head a touch,

drop a shoulder, tuck your chin

whisper “prune” or smile.

“Look at me!”

Click and whirr the shot

Bring the phone back,

cup it with your body.

Chimp your masterpiece:

face in focus, no bombs,

the kitty looks pretty too.

The world returns to periphery.

“Where was I?” Facebook,

Flikr, Snapchat, Twitter.

“Someone liked my post!”

Tempus Fugit and Carpe Diem

carpe-diemAll my life, I have heard people say, “Time flies, especially as you get older.” But for me, time always seemed to pass about the same. Sometimes it even felt like the month of April when I was twelve–seemingly interminable, but usually time just passed, neither fast nor slow; it just went. Carpe Diem wasn’t on my mind until after the movie, “The Dead Poets’ Society.” Then, it was on everyone’s lips. But as far as Carpe Diem went, I already had.

In my twenties, I was a big fan of one of the early self-help book writers, Hugh Prather. In his book, I Touch the Earth, the Earth Touches Me he writes“It’s not that “today is the first day of the rest of my life,” but that “now” is all there is of my life.” The fact that now is all anyone has resonated with my philosophical bent. But it makes sense even to my everyday experience. The past does not exist outside of memory, and the future is nonexistent, having not occurred yet. Which leaves humanity submerged in the ever-changing present, flowing around us. As I saw it, if I was to live, I had to seize what was going by before it was gone forever.

But Prather’s books didn’t only teach me to “seize the day” they also taught me something about how to stay centered, no matter what I was doing.  In one passage, Prather describes going to the Post office and his infant son being fascinated with the bushes along the way. This lodged in my brain, and has become like a dedication to me.  On Crete, when I walked down the sidewalks, I made it a point to notice the color and scent of the oleanders. On the way home, I gazed out across the island’s vineyards at the blue Mediterranean Sea and the island of Dia. No matter how insignificant a place I am in or how mundane a place I am going to–I focus on where I am and it keeps me centered in the moment.

Lately, I’ve been reading and listening to Brendon Burchard,  renowned writer and creator of the High Performance Academy, and he agrees that one slows time by being mindful and focused. He talks about how, “People are doing everything and yet life feels like it’s just spinning by. Matter of fact, for many people, every week just feels like they didn’t sense or feel any of it. Or if they did, it was frenetic energy. They don’t feel like life has depth, meaning or beauty.”

It is the curious and unhurried eye that brings color back into life. Brendon Burchard

So, people can have a “full” life, filled with softball games, ballet class for the kids, volunteering at the church social, etc, and still feel like life is going by too fast because they took on too much, and ironically, because they’re simultaneously moving on to the next thing. What happens here is that life goes by like the landscape outside your car at sixty miles per hour; There’s no sensory or emotional connection and it’s all an unremembered blur. And even though they feel like they’re busy, and working, it’s not their life’s work they’re busy with—it’s just busy work.  So their moments are actually crammed with obligation and distraction.

And don’t think that obligation and distraction have to be things like TV or Harlequin Romances. Distractions are dangerous because they can seem important. This is where individuals need to examine their Life’s Mission and be very clear about what it entails. Set some time aside, sit down, and write out what your vision of life is and what it will take to get there. And to protect that vision,  set up some guidelines. Like, as a general rule, at first, every draw on your time gets a “no, ” or at least a “let me think about it.” That way you can have some time to give it some serious thought instead of an immediate, unconsidered “yes.” Without a clear idea of what you want out of your life and some rules to keep life on track, life can slip away one distraction at a time.

Burchard points out an excellent example of how attention and focus affect our perception of time. He asks if you’ve ever been in a car accident or a situation where there was an emergency, and it seemed like everything went in slow motion? The reason that happened is because your awareness was heightened and you started taking all this information in because maybe in that situation you felt like you were in danger and were hyper attentive. Or have you watched your kid walk across the graduation stage and it looked like it was in slow motion because that moment meant something to you and you were focused. So, the challenge in experiencing slow time, is deciding to focus our attention and heighten our senses.

There are many efforts one can make to remain focused in the moment. Centering yourself through a short meditation or focusing on your breathing is one way. Setting an alarm on your phone that reminds you, “Stop a moment and take in what’s around you with at least three senses.” Another is just to make it a point to pay attention to something other than visually.  Slow down and savor every bite at meal time. Drink your wine and wallow your tongue in the flavor of it. The next time you go to the mailbox, really listen to the sounds around you.

This will take daily practice to do, as anything worth doing does, and it will take being more critical of how you allow your time to be spent. Life will remain a speeding merry-go-round unless you cut back on obligations that do not fit into your vision for life. Not anyone else’s and not society’s idea of a good life. Your life, or at least your experience of it, is at stake. Isn’t that worth it?