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

Posts tagged ‘mindfulness’

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.

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.

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 . . .

What’s Real?

What-s Real-

I spend a lot of time helping people think about what’s real. I don’t mean that all the people I see are delusional and ungrounded. In the age of the internet we are inundated with news, events, and a lifetime of experiences that can lead our thinking to be inaccurate and unhelpful and we can easily lose sight of what’s real and accurate.

So it’s important to spend a few moments thinking about what’s real.

Before we hit that share button on Facebook.

Before we accept the media’s account of events and current affairs.

And most importantly, before we accept our own negative self talk.

As we’ve seen over and over again, Facebook and the internet in general, perpetuates falsehoods and outright lies, often for years after a story has been debunked. The nature of the internet and media allows us too easily to see and hear only the stories and opinions that support and reinforce our own personal point of view. This can lead us to a very biased view of the world that is blissfully unaware and/or unsympathetic of alternative ways of understanding. It also feeds the anxiety and unsettled feelings so many of us carry; feelings that affect our attitudes and often, our health.

But it’s our own internal dialogue that can be the most harmful. That inner voice telling us we’re not good enough, smart enough, etc. We come to a point fairly early in life where we passively accept that voice despite any evidence demonstrating that we are good, we are smart, and we have good things to offer the world.

Maybe it’s time to try turning off the computer, the news feeds, the inner voice. The first two are easier—simply unplug the electronics. Talk with friends, engage in interesting activities, connect with nature. These actions will also help tame the inner voice. Mindfulness meditation also helps calm the inner voice by raising our awareness, which is a first step in learning to change that dialogue.

Begin by asking yourself, is it real?



The Simplicity of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a common phrase these days and offered as kind of a cure all for stress and the key to living a happy, productive life. While mindfulness may be considered the latest thing to fix us, the concept has been around since ancient times and simply involves being present in the present moment. One of the founders of the current mindfulness movement, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” This means not only paying attention to who we are with and what we are doing, but also to what we are thinking and feeling. Learning to pay attention in this way takes practice, but when we learn to pay attention we begin to see things in new ways and we can begin to make positive changes.

One of the best parts of mindfulness aside from helping us be more present, is that it can be practiced anywhere at any time. Nothing special is necessary—no sitting cross legged on special pillows, no special robes or rooms, and no apps, though plenty of all of these can be found. The simplest mindfulness exercise is simply paying attention to your breath. Practicing a mindfulness breath meditation 5-10 minutes a day can have a powerful effect in lowering your stress and help you be present for the important moments in your life.

This two minute video gives you the basics and will help you get started. Please let me know what you think in the comments here and if you have any questions or want to learn more. Meditation 101: A Beginner’s Guide Animation

Catching Up

We set out with the best of intentions and then life happens. Always does. It’s been quite awhile since I wrote that last post a year and a half ago, so let me catch up on a few things before I attempt again to make a regular go of this space.

Unknown to me at the time, the most significant event was developing as I wrote that last post about mindful running. Just a few days later I found out that my oldest brother had some pretty serious cancer going on. It took a solid year of various treatments, surgeries, and drugs to get him in good place again where thankfully he remains, though treatment still continues. Perhaps needless to say, that was one event to change my focus. Somewhere in the middle of brother’s adventure my stepfather passed away after a lengthy illness. His departure set off another chain of events within the family that are rippling.

Another significant happening during this time was my shift from part time to full-time work as a mental health therapist. Lots of focus on establishing my office, building a client base, and learning the unique and challenging ways of the insurance industry. As for running, I’m still at it. I’ve finished four half marathons so far and shed many pounds along the way. I still find running to be a nice way to work at being mindful and notice the world around me. I do have to admit that I sometimes slip on the headphones now to help motivate and entertain during some runs. It’s challenging and perhaps unnecessary to be mindful all of the time and listening to music can be a mindful activity in itself.

So maybe now, after a year and half, things have settled down enough to allow me to be more present here. I have wisdom to share and thoughts about the world and life that I hope you’ll find interesting. Hoping to be back here very soon, but then Life keeps happening.