The Gift of Silence

Of all the things to come to the mainstream, meditation has to be one of the most exciting. Complete with scientific proof of its power, it is free, accessible to anyone, and is life changing. It’s even brain changing. That our brain is pliable and we have the power to alter it for the better through meditation  is so intriguing to me.

Some people suffering from anxiety, depression, stress or confusion have found relief from meditation that they didn’t get from years of therapy. Troubled kids who are growing up in violent homes and communities, and were emotionally unavailable to learn, received mindfulness training at a school in Richmond California, and their classroom success increased drastically.  For those without any serious issues, meditation simply improves day to day life, often dramatically.

I could go on and on about the benefits of meditation, but I think the experts have already said it best. Rebecca Gladding, M.D., in her article in Psychology Today says: I’m sure you’ve heard people extol the virtues of meditation. You may be skeptical of the claims that it helps with all aspects of life. But, the truth is, it does. Sitting every day, for at least 15-30 minutes, makes a huge difference in how you approach life, how personally you take things and how you interact with others. It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has brought meditation to the masses, integrating his yoga and meditation studies with western medicine. He has spoken at colleges, and even led a session on mindfulness at Google: http://yogasanas.net/index.php/component/relatedvideos/?vid=3nwwKbM_vJc

For some, the idea of meditation is too vague. Do I really just sit down and shut up? Do I close my eyes, focus on my breath? How do I stop thinking? Fortunately, technology has made it quite simple.  The easiest way to begin may be to download a free guided meditation,  put in headphones, and in just fifteen minutes, begin to change your brain and your life.  I’ve included a link to one such meditation below, but there are many others to choose from. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2pCDbisNv4

Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, we have to keep meditating consistently to ensure that the new neural pathways that are forming stay strong. Fortunately, meditation is its own motivation. Results are typically obvious and immediate. And once it becomes habit, each meditation session is like coming home.

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Simple things that I love

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Mason jars have made a comeback, partly due to the resurgence of canning.  These jars have been around forever, yet have become a new shabby chic trend. Now they are wedding centerpieces, candle holders, Christmas gifts filled with muffin mix or soup or crafts. I love them, not just because they are BPA-free and dishwasher safe, but because they are clear and unfussy. I am a sucker for anything polished- rustic, so I am on board for this trend. They are the “where have you been all my life?” containers, and I am in love. They match any decor and can be bought inexpensively, by the case. They come in many sizes, and are easily replaced, given away, and stored. I use them to hold grains, and to make chocolate and vanilla chia pudding. I fill them with a breakfast mix that can be stored in the fridge the night before, shaken, and eaten or brought on the go in the morning. Mostly, I just love how simple they look and feel.

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I’m not real big on accessories, especially if they are big, cumbersome or complicated. But I am a fan of the Infinity scarf.  I find most scarves to be too long for me, and I struggle with how to tie them so they don’t take me over. But I like the idea of using a simple piece to add a splash of color to a basic black or white blouse. So when the infinity scarf was born, I embraced the trend. They fall obediently over a t-shirt and can be easily and prettily tucked into a jacket.  When it comes to accessorizing, my love goes to infinity.

Lists. Nothing trendy here, just pen and paper. I am not sure I could ever give up my lists. I have them going all the time- grocery lists, to do lists, to write lists, books I want to read lists, and then there is the never changing list, such as whose birthday is when. I like to have sticky notes readily available to jot things down on, then add them to my lists. Songs, items, things I want to google, podcasts I want to hear, authors I want to be.  I recently started keeping my lists in a small binder. I’ve divided it into “to do” “to write” and “to buy”.  I love knowing all my lists are in one place, and can be torn out, added to, or rewritten. A new blog post or essay idea? Ran out of yogurt? Came across the name of a book I must read? I simply must list it.

Olive oil.  I’ve liked cooking with olive oil for as long as I’ve been cooking. I also love drizzling it over avocado and tomato salads. But I have a new use for olive oil which has  reignited my appreciation for it. Hair. Yup, I recently learned, thanks to chef Giada De Laurentiis, that this oil is great for the hair. I guess it’s not surprising that Giada would get her beauty products from the kitchen. But after years of trying many products on my sometimes unruly, curly hair, I never would have thought of this one on my own. Thanks, Giada. I love it.

Liebstered

Thanks to blogger Lee French of http://authorleefrench.wordpress.com/ for the Liebster award! I am breaking the rules of sending this to other new bloggers, as all the blogs I follow have been around a while and have more followers than the quota required to be Liebstered.  Anyhow, I am answering the five questions sent to me:

1. Why did you start blogging?

I love writing and I have an interest in simplifying, especially as it allows me more freedom and inspiration to write. It’s like cleaning out the cobwebs, metaphorically speaking, to let all the fun in. Blogging about simplifying gives me a wide range of topics to write about, and a break from writing memoir. I also like to think that occasionally someone picks up a sentence or two that inspires them somehow.

2. Cats, dogs, or neither?

Dogs. I am allergic to cats, so I never had the chance to get attached to any cat- or even pet one.

3. What author(s) do you obsessively read?

Recently I read all of Mary Carr’s memoirs, including her most famous, The Liars Club.  And while in the mode of reading memoirs, I picked up Stephen King’s:  On Writing. That was a fabulous read, because I got to read about writing within a memoir.  Like a lot of writers, I am a read-aholic. Sometimes I just can’t stop. But alas, it’s time to sit down and write.

4. How do you take your eggs?

Lately, scrambled. I used to like them fried too, but only with toast. Since I’ve been cutting most bread out of my diet, I eat them scrambled. I just can’t have a fried egg without toast. What would I do with the yolk?

5. What’s your favorite Winter Olympics sport?

I’ll watch all of them in short doses. I guess figure skating, if I had to choose. It’s just beautiful. But for this year’s Olympics, a relative of a relative is competing in skiing, so I’ll be sure to pay attention to that.

Random musings of monkey mind

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.  –Henry David Thoreau

In her book, The Artists Way, Julia Cameron recommends writing morning pages in order to cleanse the mind of extraneous thoughts before attempting to write anything of substance. For more on Cameron’s morning pages:http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/

I find that the morning pages tool, along with meditating, does the trick. And I need these tools, because without them, I have what Buddha described as monkey mind– when the mind is filled with thoughts that are like drunken monkeys, chattering on endlessly, clamoring for attention. For many, some of these irksome thoughts are fear based, or questions about the future, or a replaying of the past. But often, they are just the pesky little thoughts that keep returning, or worse yet, multiplying.

Today, just this once, I am giving the drunken monkeys space on the page. I am telling myself that after this purge of random musings, I will get back to the business of writing.  If you read on, you must forgive the  insignificance of most of these ponderings.  It is after all, the result of monkey mind.

*Why isn’t it expected that horse owners will clean up after their pets?  It is unacceptable for dog owners to let their dogs excrete all over a public road without cleaning up after them, but horses can make a huge mess, even while walking through a residential neighborhood, and that’s okay. Why is that? Is it just better for the environment? Or maybe someone does come around and clean it up. I just don’t know.

*Why is it so hard to find jeans that actually sit at the waist?  I don’t want jeans that sit at the hip, or just below the waist.  I want the waist to be at the waist. I don’t have an aversion to fashion. I love clothes. I understand there are trends. But please, give me back my jeans.  I just want jeans that have a waist at the waist.

*Sour dough bread is one of the only breads left that is actually good for you. Why is is so hard to find at my local grocery stores?  I am thrilled that I can find quinoa and chia seeds almost everywhere now. Why must I hunt down a loaf of sour dough bread? Do I really have to go to California to find it? Or Wegmans?

*And while I’m on the subject of inadequate grocery stores, how am I supposed to reach the top shelves? At five feet one inch tall, I have resorted to climbing the shelves like Spiderman to reach an item. More than once. Sometimes another patron kindly reaches the thing for me, but more often I’ve shimmied up the shelving, risking things tumbling down. Risking myself tumbling down. Sometimes it feels dangerous. Is it assumed we are all tall enough to reach the top shelf? Because we’re not. Not all of us.

*Why do I keep having the OCD thought that I’ve left my dog out in the cold whenever I leave the house?  I know some people have the more common fear of leaving the stove on. But every time I’ve left my house this winter, I think back to when I last saw the dog. Did I let him in after letting him out? Was he on his bed? In the kitchen? Occasionally, I’ve turned back around and checked. He’s always inside. When I don’t turn around and check, I let my mind go as far as wondering how I will explain to my family that I’ve accidentally killed the dog. This random thought is disturbing.  I need to fix this one.