Photos and stories that attempt to understand the world we live in . . .

Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

Moving on from the Old Ways

Sometimes you have to find a new way. Too often we get stuck on our paths even if we know they’re not taking us where we want to go. There’s lots of reasons for this, the familiar is easy and comfortable, change is hard and scary, or we simply don’t know any other way. We even fight to stay on the old path when it’s very clear it doesn’t work anymore. So how do we change paths then?

When you’re feeling stuck there are several helpful tools you can use to help you find direction. The first is the practice of mindfulness. The regular practice of mindful meditation and self-awareness can help you let go of the unhelpful thinking that holds you back, those thoughts that tell us we’re not worth it, it’s too dangerous to change, or simply that we can’t do it. A second approach is journaling. While there are many methods of journaling, the approach I find most helpful is the Morning Pages routine from Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. Morning Pages are simply three hand-written pages completed first thing in the morning before your brain switches all the filters on. Just write whatever comes to mind and don’t stop until you finish the three pages. Doing this consistently every morning over the course of several weeks you’ll begin see with better clarity what’s holding you back, which in turn allows you to begin identifying steps you can take to create change in your life. Another helpful tool for opening yourself up to possibilities also comes from Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. She calls this tool the Artist’s Date and you don’t need to be an artist to use either of these. The Artist’s Date is simply taking yourself on a solo outing each week to a place that intrigues you in some way. This could be to an interesting shop you always pass but never stop to go into, a museum, a park, a class, or whatever seems interesting or different. By doing this you’re opening up your mind to new possibilities. Walking is another simple tool that is readily available to most of us. Not walking the dog or with anyone, but simply walking alone with awareness of what’s around you and what you’re thinking and doing.

Now you can expect resistance with all these activities. Your brain doesn’t like change and it’s going to provide a multitude of reasons why you can’t do these things. That’s OK because it’s to be expected, you just have to be determined and soon whichever of these tools you use will become something you look forward to. If your resistance to starting remains high, I suggest you take a sheet of paper and list out the reasons or excuses you have for not doing things. Write out every one and you’ll soon see that most of the reasons are frivolous and just another form of unhelpful thinking. Plug in “unhelpful thinking styles” into google and you’ll get a good sampler of unhelpful thinking patterns, we all have them and once aware of them we can counter them.

It’s not too late change tracks in your life, but it does take some work on your part. Intentions are good but it’s the actions you take that make the difference and take you where want to go. Small steps can lead to a great journey. Let me know how it goes.


Life in the Forest

Trees and forests are very difficult to photograph and provide the viewer a true sense of their place. This picture gives you an idea of what the forest may be like, but to truly experience a forest, or even an individual tree, you need to be there. You need to be able to see the small details, the hundreds of symbiotic relationships that are present in a healthy forest. Life supporting life and everything dependent on the combined resources of the forest.

The picture has a beautiful old Western Red Cedar in the center. But can you tell from the picture that the tree is well over 500 years old and that it completely dwarfs its neighbors? And of course, you can’t see the other large old cedars nearby or the old growth Sitka Spruce just down the path. Nor can you feel the textures of the trees, the moss, or soft decay of the nurse logs. Then there are the combined smells of the old forest. The sweetness of flowers and new growth along with the musty odor of decay as the old trees become nourishment for the new.

What we have learned is all of this is good for you, and more specifically, good for your mental health. The peacefulness and solitude of the forest, the forest smell, and the surrounding air have been shown to lower our cortisol levels, increase serotonin, lower our blood pressure, and help calm our minds. And while you can look at a picture and imagine yourself in the setting, I encourage you to find a place near you and try it out for yourself. I’m blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest where we still have some wonderful old growth forests, but there are places everywhere that you can experience the benefits of the forests and outdoors in general. In the Midwest where I grew up, we had “forest preserves.” Every state has some version of the forest preserves. Many of the same benefit can be found in prairies and meadows, along rivers, lakes and oceans, or perhaps in a nearby park or even your backyard.

I’d love to hear about your nature experiences and how you’ve reconnected with the earth. Please comment and let us know.

Into the Unknown

Sometimes the best path forward is the one that’s new and uncertain.

Where are you Going?

It’s one thing to talk about meditation and quite another to make a daily practice of meditation. We all set out with good intentions, but when things don’t work the way we expect, or take too much time to work we often give up. That’s true for meditation when we expect immediate benefits, or perhaps we don’t what to expect and quit because we really don’t know if it’s “working.” In this post, I will give you some things to keep in mind so you can build a successful meditation practice.

The first thing and perhaps most important practice skill is to simply show up. We can assume at this point you have a basic idea of how to meditate, if not let me know and I’ll set you up. The next step is to begin the practice, showing up every day to sit and actively engage in your practice. Some days your experience will feel wonderful like everything worked just right and other days it might seem that you spent the whole time thinking about stuff. That’s OK, just show up tomorrow and do it again. There is no good or bad, right or wrong, each meditation experience is a singular experience and there’s nothing gained in comparing one session to another.

That leads right to the next point to keep in mind which is to keep a nonjudgmental stance and to be kind to yourself. This is especially important as you’re starting, as that nagging voice in your head may well be trying to get you to stop telling you you’re no good at it. Let that voice go and come back to your center of breath or mantra. Keep in mind that each time you sit and meditate your experience is going to vary a bit and that’s OK. And does begin to feel more natural as you know more what to expect.

Another helpful way to build your meditation practice is to rethink your morning routine. Too often our mornings have no real routine, at least not one we’re in control of, or we have one that works against what we’re trying to achieve through meditation. We watch TV or go right into the endless scroll on our phones, building up our anxiety right as we start our day. There are some simple steps you can take to build a healthier routine, and this may include waking up a few minutes earlier each day. Morning routines would be a good topic for another post, but for our purposes here a morning routine should include time for reflection, time for intention, and time for meditation. This is of course in addition to the tasks of self-care we often neglect. Reflecting on how we’re doing, what we need; setting intentions for our day–how can I make today a good day, how can I influence what happens today? And meditation to center ourselves and calm our mind and bodies so we are prepared to put our intentions and reflective knowledge into to action.

Try adding these simple steps to your practice and you’ll find that regular practice is not only possible but helpful in many ways. Reach out if you have questions, I’m always happy to help someone along on their journey.

The Power of Meditation

Meditation is a powerful tool, one that both lets us accept what’s happening and also gives the ability to let go of what’s happening. Especially in the realm of our thinking. How often do we get caught up in spirals of doom, spirals of shame, or too often spirals of doubt. All of which keep us from being present and doing what we truly know would be good for us. Building a regular meditation practice helps you move away from this cycle of spirals.

Meditation is both easy and difficult. Meditation can be difficult because it requires a certain amount of discipline. You have to take the time to sit and actively focus on the activity. Once you get this part figured out it becomes easier, we just have to overcome the excuses and sit in meditation. Meditation then becomes an activity of minimal effort, in fact the harder you try, the less it seems to work. Regular practice with some guidance helps you learn to be in the moment and experience the full benefits.

If meditation is so easy, why do you need a teacher? Many people try various kinds of meditation and soon quit saying, “it just didn’t work for me.” A teacher will help you see and work through the various obstacles you’ll face as you build your practice. A teacher is someone who can help you understand and work through the difficult stretches and encourage to keep going. You learn to let it be and accept rather than fight your way through. Reaching a state of relaxation or clarity through meditation is something that can’t be forced.

After you learn the basics and establish a consistent practice, your relationship with your teacher shifts more to support as needed and then to slowly expand your practice to include other meditation techniques and processes. This advanced teaching also includes how to incorporate mindfulness and the benefits of meditation into your everyday life.

So how do you know when you’re ready to start? You simply have to trust that you’re ready and now is the best time to start. There’s no special preparation needed, it’s just of matter of deciding you want meditation in your life. There are no supplies, no tools, special clothing or anything needed to start. All that is needed is a few minutes of time and a place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. You might prefer a special cushion or perhaps a shawl or blanket to wrap in, but they are certainly not necessary to meditate effectively. A simple place to sit such as a comfy chair, the floor, a kitchen chair, or whatever works best for you. Many people use their time on buses and trains to meditate. As you progress you’ll discover your preferred methods.

While having a regular chair or special shawl is not necessary, it may add an element of ritual that helps ground you and set the tone for your meditation. This can help to shift your attention from the tasks of the day and serve as kind of a reminder to the brain that we’re doing this quiet activity. But remember, don’t try too hard—minimal effort. The benefits come from within, not from a fancy robe or cushion.

Getting started is easy. Developing the discipline to sit every day is perhaps the hardest part. We’re very good at making excuses and it takes a bit of time to start experiencing the benefits, but excuses rarely hold water when we examine them. So now is the time to start, sit breathe, and be present.

Life’s Turns

Here I am back again.

Lots has happened in the past two years or so–expanded family, moving, politics, COVID and so much more. Now it’s time to focus on writing and photography again and build on what I started here a few years ago. This zigzag split rail fence is a good reminder that although life doesn’t always go in the linear path you’d hope, you do keep moving forward as each day passes like it or not. It’s really the only way you can go and the trick is to learn to let go of the things behind you that are holding you back, while at the same time, not letting what’s ahead keep you feeling stuck.

Learning to be in the moment, appreciate the here and now, so you can move forward with confidence. Not forgetting the past, but letting it teach and guide you rather you rather than shame you and hold you back. These are among the themes I’ll pick up on along with whatever else the path reveals.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Changing Times

Change has always been a part of life and it is certainly evident in the music industry. I recently read about a study that says your adult taste in music is based on what you liked when you 11-15 years old. That explains a lot about me and gives some reasoning behind why we have such a hard time liking new music. I could offer some other reasons, but that logic will do for this post. Regardless of what I think of newer music, the experience of listening has changed dramatically over the years, first with the virtual elimination of the record album or LP and now again with the death spiral of the CD.

Last week a big retail chain announced they were phasing out CDs this year. While CDs will still be available through other channels for a limited population of listeners, the majority of music is streamed through various services like Spotify, Pandora, and the like. Without considering sound quality, the end of CDs effectively transforms the listening experience in many ways. The demise of the vinyl LP started this process and now with most music streamed, the process is pretty much complete. As a result it seems that both the recording process and listening process has gone from an analogue hands-on experience to a more remote, fully digital experience where both the artist and listener are quite often removed from the creative process. Both artist and listener never even have to leave their bedrooms.

I grew up in the prime of the LP era when album art was a big part of new releases. In addition to the artwork of Roger Dean, Storm Thorgerson and others, records often came with printed lyrics, a variety of posters and stickers, and in one case, a pair of paper panties perhaps inspired by the working zipper on the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. Hours could be spent dissecting the lyrics and album art for meaning and hidden messages or you could simply follow along with with the lyrics as you listened. In addition, many albums contained information about the band and instruments although his information was often deceptively incomplete given what we now know about the Wrecking Crew and other session musicians. All in all, listening could be very immersive and at its best would be a true mindfulness experience. Not to say this isn’t possible today, in fact today you can learn an overwhelming amount of information about most any song or artist you listen to–simply open your devices and swirl into what the web has to say. It seems quite the opposite of mindful listening though.

Another missing element is the sharing of good music. Many hours of my youth were spent with friends sharing and listening to records. This typically involved getting together at someone’s house to talk and listen together. Now virtually any song is available anytime in any place. While it would be a stretch to say music doesn’t foster community, it is again very different sort of community than was found in the LP days.

A few memorable albums covers from back in the day:

Space Ritual by Hawkwind featuring Lemmy shortly before he went on to form Motorhead. Of course there was plenty of good music on this double LP but the real highlight was the cover which folded out a couple of times to reach a remarkable 2’x3′, meaning there was 12 square feet of artwork to go with the music. And that doesn’t include four more square feet of the inner sleeves.

Roger Dean’s surreal paintings were featured on many Yes and Uriah Heep albums and it’s only recently that I learned that one of my favorite albums, Demons and Wizards, has erotica hidden right on the front cover. Dean described the advent of CDs as a tacky decline in combining art and music.

Storm Thorgerson (aka Hipgnosis) was responsible for most of Pink Floyd’s album designs including the iconic Dark Side of the Moon which also came with two posters and some stickers. In addition to Pink Floyd Hipgnosis also designed covers for Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Wings, Yes, and many others.

Chicago at Carnegie Hall has to take the prize for excessive album inserts. While the cover art itself was just the simple Chicago logo, the package included four records, a booklet of photos and miscellanea, two posters–one opening up to six foot wide, and a sheet on voter registration information.

And in case you were wondering, the panties came in Alice Cooper’s School’s Out LP which opened like an old fashioned school desk. The panties served as the inner sleeve for the record.

Changing times–not that it was necessarily better back in the day, but it was certainly a very different experience. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this along with some of your memorable albums covers.

When I’m not Here

When I started this blog several years ago I had this vision that I would create all these great posts, writing more days than not–a quick scroll reveals that while there may have been some great posts, they certainly haven’t been frequent. Reflecting on the situation, I suppose it’s like living the space between the dashes and doing the things in life that matter. Helping people negotiate difficult moments in their lives, nurturing my creative muse, being active in my wonderful family– most recently as a first time grandpa, enjoying the great outdoors, and so much more. My writing also matters and I try to keep up on it even if it rarely makes it here. And I like to think that my words have helped people take a few steps forward on their journey. It’s nice to think that I’m making a difference in this world.

We live in strange times to put it nicely and the current state of affairs have divided not only our country, but many of our families, like never before in my lifetime. That also keeps me off the page at times. It’s too easy to take sides and fan the flames of unrest, distrust, and anger even with seem to be neutral comments. I don’t want to do that myself nor give others the opportunity, so on all social media I remain quiet on the topic and find more meaningful ways to address things I find to be unsettling or unacceptable. I encourage you to do the same, find ways to engage that having meaning and make a difference, even if it simply means being quiet for awhile. Nurture your muse, go outside and find some nature to frolic in, be present with family and friends and learn to let go of what’s not important, what you don’t have control over.

Remembering to Breathe

Sunflower Focus

Sometimes the picture just isn’t clear and you’re not sure how to react. These are the type of situations where it helps to remember to take a step back and simply breathe. Breathe and let yourself slowly see the situation as it is. Acknowledging what you have in the moment as it’s happening, without judgment. That is the essence of mindfulness and clears the path for you to begin to respond to the unknown with loving kindness.

Healing with the Waves


Like a beautiful piece of beach glass each of us a unique creation capable of great things. Life is hard and sometimes we break as the more difficult times overtake us. And when we’re most broken, when we feel there is no hope, it can feel like we’re drowning. But similar to the broken, jagged glass in the water, time helps us heal and reforms us like the restless waves reshape the glass. Without the waves, the rocks, and the time underwater, the glass would remain jagged and broken. But over time the waves smooth the sharp edges and a gentle sheen begins to form. And as more time goes on, you slowly get closer to the shore and eventually you find yourself on the beach. It’s there that you begin to shine like a precious jewel sparkling in the sun. And if look you closely around the beach, you’ll see that you’re never truly alone. Each journey to the beach is unique, but the healing and wisdom that was gained along the way makes each journey precious. So let the beauty and uniqueness of each piece of beach glass teach us how, despite our difficult times and scars, we too are beautiful and unique.