The life- changing magic of meditation

cropped-stones-323807__180-legal.jpgThere is so much information supporting the benefits of meditation, but I won’t cover much of that here. I am simply going to say that meditation enables us to keep our promises to ourselves, make good and healthy choices, and access a wealth of wisdom and information not immediately accessible by our buzzing minds.

If you want to experience the magic that meditation will  bring to your life, but are turned off to the idea of sitting in silence, here are a couple of fantastic meditation apps you can try: Calm and Headspace.

You only have to allot about ten minutes to meditation to reap some significant benefits including  better sleep, stress reduction, clarity and peace. Who doesn’t have ten minutes?

If this appeals to you, I recommend approaching it like an experiment. If you don’t currently meditate, then you know what a typical day is like without meditation. Why not see what it’s like with meditation? How about a week with meditation? The results may astound you. But don’t take my word for it.

Brain Food

20161213_183954Last night I drank caffeinated green tea after dinner and it kept me awake half the night. When I finally gave up on sleeping, I went downstairs and watched the YouTube videos of Dr. Daniel Amen. The guy knows the brain inside out and is passionate about the care of this amazing organ. Ironically, sleep is one of the brain’s critical needs.

And I’ve known this. I’ve stressed the importance of sleep to my kids over the years, to the point of sounding like a broken record. When we haven’t had enough sleep, we don’t function as well, we are more prone to poor eating habits, skipping exercise, irritability and accidents. I knew it would not bode well for me to be wide awake at 3 a.m., and yet I was not sorry to be taking in Dr. Amen’s knowledge.

20160602_170831-2Diet and exercise are also critical to healthy brain functioning. We know this already, right? But I usually think of these things as important for my body and my heart. Rarely do I focus on the fact that I am caring for this incredible, elastic bundle of nerve cells. And what really makes me want to jump up and down is how the brain’s upkeep affects our overall happiness in a BIG way. Our mood, judgement, creativity and attention are all  results of the brain. I would say all those things together affect the spirit. As Dr. Amen says, when your brain works, your life works. 

What are you feeding your brain? 

That is the question I am going to ask myself from now on.
20160503_111231I am feeding it eight hours of sleep most nights, plus exercise and meditation. And I am feeding it some pretty yummy things too, like spaghetti squash and shredded zucchini and quinoa stuffed peppers and salmon over spinach. 20160801_171519-1

 

Our brains needs a lot of water, and of course, intellectual stimulation and empowering thoughts. We can nurture and stretch our brains, or let them atrophy. We can feed them well or neglect them.

We can literally grow and heal our brains by making healthy choices. 

I’m drinking the decaf tea tonight.

My brain has some sleep to catch up on.

 

 

 

Finding the fun in healthy

It seems to me that aligning body, mind and soul is the ultimate goal of everyone, consciously or not. When out of alignment, our bodies tell us so. We feel lethargic, over-stressed or uninspired.

When in alignment, we feel vibrancy, energy, peace and creativity.

How do we align?

Perhaps we each have our own way. There are so many ways. We can start with our thoughts, or our environment.

Or we can start with the body.

Moving the body.

Feeding the body well.

20160826_175534 (1)

Tangy Lentil Salad

 

I promised myself that turning fifty would be the catalyst for becoming the healthiest I’ve ever been.  And I’ve got to say, the journey is a blast. I’m seriously having the most fun on the path to good health than I’ve ever had.

Fun is the answer!

facebook_1472724379117For me, that means trying new and healthy recipes, sometimes mimicking those I’ve enjoyed in restaurants. Fun is visiting a new juice bar with my daughters, researching the best blender to purchase, reading some of Jason Vale’s books just for fun and then getting inspired by his near perfect health. https://www.amazon.com/Jason-Vale/e/B0034IZDB6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1472730018&sr=8-2-ent

Fun is a long walk with my husband or a new playlist for my solo jog.

It’s my favorite yoga class or paddling a kayak under a beautiful blue sky.

It’s a pile of books to read that feeds my mind and distracts me from the sugar I am not ingesting.

It’s having all the energy I need to be as productive as I want to be. I love love love this.

Being productive feels fun. 

Fun is writing  when the words  are  flowing, finally, after a bout of writer’s block. What is writer’s block anyhow? I think it’s just like any other energy block; remove the sludge in all its forms and open the channels.

Flow.

Momentum.

Health.

Inspiration. 

It’s basically free and fun and feels fantastic. 

 

Opening the creative conduit, aligning with the purest energy that is ours for the taking, is a far better buzz than I will ever get from the best margarita ever made. And I do like margaritas.

It’s lighter than stuff.

Sweeter than chocolate.

Good for the body= clarity for the mind=joy for the soul.

Oh joy!

 

 

Clearing a path for the good stuff

If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves. You can gain more control over your life by paying closer attention to the little things.  –Emily Dickinson

What are the little things?

Drinking water.

Getting enough sleep.

Decluttering.

Eating a healthy meal.

Keeping only what you love.

Breathing deeply.

Exercising.

Replacing the button.

Cleaning out the fridge.

Hanging the picture.

Buying the stamps.

Thinking the good thought.

Doing the paperwork.

Planting the vegetables.

Saying the kind word.

Donating the stuff.

Pausing.

 What are the big things?

Inspiration.

Clarity.

Insight.

Healing.

Hope.

Decision.

Peace.

Fulfillment.

Joy.

Freedom.

Success.

Love.

Creativity.

Truth.

Ideas.

Courage.

How does taking care of the little things lead to the big things?

Everything in this entire universe is made up of energy. Food, thoughts, stuff, etc.  This is not a new phenomenon. This is not a New Age theory or an unscientific guess. This has been true for all of eternity.

Einstein reported that “..both the physical plane of our reality of matter and the abstract reality of our mind are made up of energy patterns.”  Every cell, thing, thought, word and morsel of food has a vibrational frequency.

There is positive energy and negative energy and neutral energy. All of it is easy to decipher. How do you feel after eating something? Doing something? Saying something? Thinking something? Being in a particular environment? What adds to your energy, heightens your vibration, and what takes away from it?

Doing the small things cleans up your energy, raising it in order to attract the energy of the the  bigger things. Like attracts like.  Doing the small things creates a magnet for the bigger things. It opens up a pathway. It unblocks us and sets us free to discover our limitlessness.

How simple is that? Just do the small things. One by one. Day by day. Moment by moment.

Clear a path to the big things. You can feel it.

Making room for the big stuff.

Farewell my sweets

It has been over a year since I wrote about my sugar habit in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/sweet-surrender/

Not much has changed. You could say I’m mindful about consuming sugar, but really I’m just aware of how addicted I am. No matter how much I engage in healthy habits, this sugar thing has got me beat. I find it easy to embrace a healthy lifestyle in all other areas but this one. It is the stubborn habit that has followed me around my entire life.

But it’s a new year and never too late for change. Recently, I read Gretchen Rubin’s article on habits:

http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2012/10/back-by-popular-demand-are-you-an-abstainer-or-a-moderator/

She proposes that when it comes to managing indulgences, there are abstainers and there are moderators, and life is easier if we identify which one we are. I want to be a moderator. That sounds so healthy. So moderate. Everything in moderation, right? But alas, I am not a moderator. Not when it comes to sugar.

With sugar, I want what I want. One means two means three. There is no saving dessert for later or tomorrow, because if it’s there, I’m going to have it. Now. And if I have it one day, I must have it the next.

I tried the eating sweets only on special occasions idea of moderating, and I failed. Every occasion became special. Not just birthdays and holidays, which by the way, seem to come around an awful lot. But it was also special when my husband brought home Ben & Jerry’s from the grocery store. And it was special if we found ourselves near a bakery where we could get cannolis. And it was special when it was the weekend or the kids were home or we’re out to dinner or…

You see how that goes?

And there was the pre-sliced cheesecake I bought from Trader Joe’s and told myself I’d save  for Thanksgiving. When my husband asked if we could perhaps break into the cheesecake before the holiday, I was adamant. No, of course we can’t! Then I fessed up. We can’t because I’ve already sampled two pieces. If anyone was going to sample the cheesecake, it had to me. Obviously.  I was the sugar addict after all.

Then there was Christmas day when I walked into my parents’ house and headed straight to their freezer where I knew they stored the whoopie pies. I helped myself to the over- sized dessert before anyone had even begun the meal. It was like I was five years old again, but it was less cute now.

But recently, I think I hit rock bottom. On a mini-road trip with one of my daughters, we left the Norman Rockwell museum and were back on the road. My daughter decided she wanted an ice cream cone, and with limited choices nearby, would settle for a McDonald’s vanilla cone.

She is a person who can indulge in sweets moderately, so of course I obliged. Once I placed her order in the drive thru, I drove to the second window to pay. I was happy with myself that I had opted to abstain from the dessert. This was a rare event: being in the presence of someone else eating ice cream and not having any. Actually, it had never happened before.

It was then that I remembered the Mcflurry- that soft serve ice cream with the candy mixed in. I wanted one. I began my internal battle: to have or not to have, my superego and my id wrestling it out right there in the drive thru. We’d already ordered. The server handed me my daughter’s cone. It was time to pay and leave. I asked her to add a Mcflurry to our order. Seeming a bit annoyed, understandably, she said okay and walked away.

Then an alarm went off. A loud, ear piercing alarm sent the employees scurrying around inside. I should have left. Surely they were facing a bit of a crisis, maybe even a fire. For all I knew, they were being held by gun point at the cash register. Clearly, it was time to move on from the Mcflurry. But no, I wanted it dammit. I waited. And waited.

Eventually the girl reappeared, flustered and holding my sugar fix. I tried to pay her and she waved me away. Just go.

My daughter was in hysterics, laughing. At least I had amused someone.

Am I out of control ?

Then I remembered the gum.

Many years ago I was chewing a piece of sugarless gum when I felt a filling loosen in my mouth. It scared me and I instantly spat the gum out. I never chewed gum again. Plain and simple, I simply decided in that moment that I would not chew gum. I feared my filling would come out and it just didn’t seem worth it. I’ve never questioned it or even reassessed the choice. I just am someone who does not chew gum now. Period.

It was easy. It’s only gum, after all. I had no real attachment to gum.

But my point is this: I am an abstainer when it comes to something I think is not good for me. A clean break frees me from the decision, the attempts at moderating, the assessing  how much and when and where. If I think it might do me harm, I am better off just taking it off the table.

I think forty-something years of attempting to be a moderator of sugar consumption is enough time. I surrender. My body is talking to me and my mind is trying every which way to reason and bargain and promise. But alas, my body wins. I must say no.

Perhaps someday I will be able to moderate sugar.  Maybe I will become one of those people who can take two bites of cheesecake and then declare that it is too rich to have any more. (In the words of my sister, anyone who thinks cheesecake is filling hasn’t seen me eat cheesecake).

But for now at least, I am an abstainer. It is time to admit this and try it on for size. I am changing my belief about myself. I used to be someone who ate sugar regularly, and the more I had, the more I wanted.

Now, only now, I am someone who doesn’t eat sweets.

No dessert for me, thank you. I don’t eat dessert.

I hardly recognize those words. I’ve never said them before. Change is good.

Some say sugar is every bit as addictive as cocaine, and heroin. I know there are going to be moments when I will want to sell my soul for a brownie. But eventually, it will pass.

My body will thank me. My mind will thank me. Life will be sweeter without the burden of this sugar habit, this sweet poison that has followed me around relentlessly. Alas, I will be free.

My name is Dana. And I don’t eat sugar anymore. medium_7774382226End of story  .

Simplify your way to a healthy weight

Clutter makes you fat. I came across an article with this title, and it instantly made perfect sense to me.  Peter Walsh, professional organizer, writer and media personality, writes about why a cluttered life and home can make you overweight and unhealthy, and what you can do to change that. I recommend his article to anyone who struggles with eating habits.  If you detest the idea of a diet, or simply want some tips on how to permanently change your lifestyle, read on!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2061094/Clutter-makes-fat-If-house-mess-chances-eating-habits-says-new-book.html

The main points that Walsh covers are these:

* We live in a “more is better” culture and this is reflected in our overstuffed schedules, crammed drawers, and skyrocketing obesity rates.

*Clutter accumulates because we are out of control, and if you let it invade your home you are much more likely to mindlessly stuff your body as well.

*Chaos and disorder are often reflected in the physical space, mental space and the body. One affects the other and if you clean up one, you begin to clear up the others as well.

College in a nutshell

The college search should be simplified. As a society, we have made such a fuss about it, such a monumental drama; a lengthy, stressful, anxiety inducing task.

It’s a lot of work to apply to college, I know. But we don’t have to make it even harder on ourselves or our kids by making it into more than it is. It’s a four year education. Four short years. And it’s not going to entirely mold junior into the person he is meant to be. If you zoned out for the first eighteen years of his life, writing a big check to a fancy college- or to any college- is not going to make up for this time.   And if your child has a certain temperament, let’s say a challenging one, that’s not going to miraculously change in these four years. And if she is a party animal, searching recklessly for happiness, college isn’t going to save her from that either. There will just be less supervision.  And if she’s already happy and good? Then she’s happy and good.

So let’s stop making college into something it’s not. It’s not a stand in for parenting. It’s not a guarantee for success nor a ticket to happiness. It’s a campus, some classes, peers galore (is it really the best thing to lump them all together with very few adults for them to interact with? I wonder about this one, but whatever); it’s a great privilege, an opportunity, and a financial decision.

We start the process way too early, in my opinion. Talk about rushing things. Do kids really need to start touring campuses sophomore year? That’s age fifteen, or sixteen for some. They aren’t even driving yet, and it’s just two years after middle school. Middle school. Think braces and skinny jeans. Most kids don’t know what they want to do when they grow up at this point, because they are busy growing up. At least they were until they started to hear the anxious, overzealous roar of the adults chanting College. College. College. Let’s start obsessing now. Do you know how many times these kids could change their minds about what they want to study between age fifteen and eighteen? Do you know how clueless they may be about which college is best for them? And about exactly where and how much of your hard earned money should be spent? I think we should all just chill out until at least junior year. And even then, let’s stop acting like which college they go to is the most important decision of their lives. What they do while they are there, or what they do afterwards, may be crucial, but where they do it is probably not.

Because mostly, it’s about the food. Why does it seem hardly anyone takes the food into consideration when searching for a college? These kids are going to be eating there three times a day, minimum. Food is a big deal. It affects mood, health, weight, brain function. Heck, it affects happiness. I was thrilled to read that my daughters’ university was ranked second-best in the nation for their campus food. I love knowing they have high quality fare at their fingertips at every meal- locally grown fruits and vegetables, delicious and diverse meals prepared by top notch chefs.

Four years is not long, unless you are feeding yourself crap. Then it is many, many days, several times a day, down the road to sluggishness, moodiness and weight gain. Now this is life changing. Habits are life changing. Lifestyles are life changing. So please, let’s stop freaking out about where our kids are going to go to college. It’s making them anxious and ungrateful and hurried.   And it’s making us crazy. Take a deep breath, and if you’re going to go on a tour, start with the dining hall. Afterall, you are what you eat.

 

Kitchen Clarity

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Kitchen Clarity

There’s something joyful about a transparent kitchen. I swapped my opaque containers out for clear ones. I love mason jars because of the ability to see what’s in them. I like to know what I’m eating, drinking and storing. I love being able to see it. I also like these jars because they represent something old and sturdy, like a truth rediscovered anew, such as the idea that fat really isn’t terrible to consume (it’s processed food that is making you sluggish, fat, and sick!) and how bone broth is such a health-giving tradition and locally grown food is the best.

I like a clean fridge and an orderly pantry. I want to know what I have at a glance. It makes me feel light and free and happy to open a door and know instantly what is there and what is missing. My food-is-love husband gets pleasure from a stuffed fridge. That represents security and comfort for him. We’ve learned to compromise. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on organic food. I figure you pay the price sooner or later with cash or health, so it may as well be up front. He loves quantity. So we’ve settled on buying organic eggs and milk and sometimes grass fed meat.

We both enjoy cooking. I like experimenting with new recipes. It’s a creative outlet for me, and a useful one at that. Like not wanting to wear the same dress twice in a row, I often search for novel dishes to cook up. My husband cooks from memory and typically sticks to his usual delicious favorites. We seem to agree that spending time in the kitchen is worthwhile, and if we’re going to be hanging out there, it may as well be inviting.
If you feel stuck in any area of your life, starting with the physical can get you moving forward- cleaning out your home and your car. Exercising. And if you are in a rut with your dietary habits, why not start with the kitchen? Purge it of anything you don’t want to consume. Clear it and clean it and start fresh. Fresh food and wholesome ingredients and simple recipes and staples in clear view; an uncluttered kitchen can be a great start for a clear mind and body. The kitchen is often the center of a home. We typically eat at least three times a day, so doesn’t this area deserve a lot of attention? Food is medicine. You are what you eat. There is a lot of truth to these old sayings. Food is sustenance, and a clean kitchen invites the flow of something good to nourish us, body and spirit.

Habits, routines and apps, oh my!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how daily habits can really make or break you, so to speak. I have found that if I put off my top priorities for ‘later in the day’, they don’t always happen.   What I do first thing in the morning has everything to do with what kind of day follows. So I gave my routine a mini overhaul. Now I walk-jog before breakfast, and start in on my writing shortly afterwards.  No matter what takes place the rest of the day, if I’ve exercised and written, I am invincible.

I appreciate the words of fiction writer Anna Quindlen when she describes the importance of her own routine.  During her interview with Gretchen Rubin (author of the Happiness Project), Quindlen says: I have a picket fence of habits to keep me on track.  I neither like nor dislike them; I just need them to do my work. I really like how she compares her habits to a picket fence- keeping productivity in and wasted time and energy out.  Her habits include eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day so as not to spend brain power on such decisions. This sounded rigid to me, until I recalled the many times I floundered for breakfast. Oatmeal? An egg? No, yogurt with fruit. Hmm, but we have this new cereal…

I think the key to forming lasting habits is to know yourself and what will actually work for you. Then do it. The beauty of a well formed habit is that we no longer have to think about it. We can use our precious energy for other things- things that really matter to us. Although I am not one of them, I understand that many people thrive on finding and using more and better technology for their everyday needs. Therefore, I did a simple search on some top habit forming apps available on iTunes.  Here are a few:

Carrot– This one is definitely the most amusing. It’s introduction is “Don’t Suck at Life”.  This app is your tough love coach- oh and it has a gender- it’s a girl. She will reward you and punish you, depending on how you are doing. You can earn points or carrots, or whatever she calls them. Those familiar with video games will speak her language.  If you like competition, and do well with negative reinforcement, this one is for you. Also, I read that it does not overload you with options when you start, so you probably won’t spend more time figuring out the features than you will engaging in the desired habit.

The Way of Life- The Ultimate Habit Maker-This one sounds very basic, and is data driven. The free version limits you to three habits, and you simply type them in and check off boxes each time that you meet your goal. You will get a visual of how you are doing as you go along.

Lift– If you are looking for short term support, this one lasts for just seven days, and it somehow involves community support.

Whatever your habit-forming style is, there is a way to succeed.  The distance between feeling like you suck at life, and feeling on top of the world, may just be a few simple habits away!

 

 

Four Secrets to my Writing Process

A belated thanks for the tag, from a prolific and talented fiction writer,  Lee French     http://authorleefrench.wordpress.com/  Here are my answers to the Four Secrets to my Writing Process:

Q1: What are you working on? 

I always have at least one essay or article going, sometimes for a literary magazine or as a guest blog post, and of course there’s this blog.  But my biggest project is  my book, a memoir.

Q2:  How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I have my own story and voice, but also my memoir is partly stunt journalism. I revisit the past while writing about the present journey, day to day.  I touch upon a universal desire to be better and happier today than we were yesterday.  This ‘coming out on top’ is not easy, but it is much simpler than we often make it. I think my book sheds light on this in a way that is useful, honest and entertaining.

 

Q3:  Why do you write what you write?

I’ve been a truth seeker and a story teller for as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, on some level I knew that I would write this story. It is honest even when that is unflattering. I have a lot of emotional courage; I am not afraid to peel off the layers and poke around. This whole blog on simplifying is really about peeling back the layers to get to an authentic life. But sometimes it’s difficult to get there. The layers can be like band-aids for those who have been through harrowing events.  I have a lot of faith that the pure intentions of my book, along with a lot of hard work and revisions, will see me through to its publication.

 

Q4: How does your writing process work?

Typically, I wrestle myself to the page each day. I stare at where I left off until my fingers start moving. I used to edit what I wrote each day, but I’ve learned that I really just need to get it down and the revising will be a whole other step in the process. A huge step. Recently, I felt that something really needed changing. I wanted to give the present more space in the book, but wasn’t sure how. So I opened my mind to what that change would be. By opening my mind, I mean I walked, journaled, meditated and cleaned out my closet. I was in limbo for weeks, and then one morning it struck me. I knew what to do. It’s going to take a lot of extra time to make the changes, but it feels right.