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.

Inconvenient musing

It’s ten thirty a.m. and I’m making my way through an already crowded grocery store. I’ve listened to some news (all bad) on the way here and my heart feels heavier than the cantaloupe stacked high in the bin, an avalanche waiting to happen.

I have not felt this depressed since I tried to give up my morning coffee. I am starting to wonder if a weighted blanket might be a good idea. Don’t be ridiculous, I tell myself. But still, it is a comforting thought.

I want to grab all of the sugary things in bakery aisle, but I resist, knowing that self-destruction is not the way out. So I am left to deal with my raw emotions.

I am overstimulated because the crowded, busy environment is competing with the thoughts in my head. I pull my carriage over to jot down notes on the back of my grocery list. It’s just a stupid essay, I think to myself, but it’s the first time I’ve felt like writing in weeks so I feel the need to seize the moment.

Why does this always happen in the most inconvenient of places? In the shower, while driving, while grocery shopping. Rarely does the muse come while I am at my laptop, fingers poised to capture the flow of words. Nope.

Lately I’ve been staring at a blank computer screen, my insides vacillating between numbness and nauseous churning. No words come out. Nothing seems good enough or clear enough or worthwhile. A waste of time, all of it, petty creative ambitions gone underground while I wait for my heart to thaw. Why does the muse hate me so?  

But today my writer’s block is broken in Market Basket, halfway down the carb aisle. This is why I never leave home without a pen.

Back at home, I sign up for a daily action text.  I text the word DAILY to the number 228466 and am prompted to give my zip code. I will receive a daily text prompting me to make a specific call to my Senator, on behalf of U.S. laws, on Planned Parenthood, on all sorts of rights on behalf of the welfare of the citizens of the United States.

I sort of hate the phone, and initially I worry I’ll be caught in some endless loop like calling Verizona or my insurance company, but I get through on the second ring.  This is easy, and something I can do every single day.

Helplessness and hopelessness is what will keep me down, not action. Action is good.

I go to yoga class and breathe and sweat and stretch and get out of my head and back into my body and my spirit and that sweet space of presence.

But then my mind gets a bit restless again and I have to give it something to chew on, so I turn to books like I always do. I read books to help me understand what has happened and what my part is in all of it.  I read Hillbilly Elegy and I ordered a book that my father has suggested, The Authoritarians. The author, Bob Altemeyer, explains in methodical detail, the roots of authoritarianism and who the authoritarian followers are. The book can be downloaded for free at www.theauthoritarians.com. My husband reads it first.  He’s not typically someone who enjoys psychological analyzing but he says it explains a lot. I put it on my reading list.

I look for Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. I want to understand, I do. The librarian tells me that there are a hundred and seventeen people in line for this book. I don’t think I can wait that long.

Then I decide I need to go deeper, much deeper. I need to rise above politics and read something that speaks to my soul.  Call me dramatic, but this is no small matter. I need an intervention here. I feel we have entered a dark night of the soul, as a country, and we are all in this together. I want to pull my weight. I’ve decided that means taking action toward what I know is right and remembering that there is plenty I could be wrong about.

I remember that I have Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love in my bookshelf.  Before I begin reading it, I look the author up the on social media. I follow her on twitter, thinking she’ll be blissfully calm in the midst of the storm that is our political climate. Not so.

You know we are trouble when even Marianne Williamson is pissed off.

But anyhow, I start reading her book and it does bring me peace. I am willing to see the bigger picture, accept responsibility for my own feelings and actions. She says if you are in disagreement with someone, that even if you think the other party is 90% responsible, you should focus on your 10%.  It’s not anyone’s job to change another or even to change another’s mind. I agree with this.

So I take care of myself so that I am bringing light, and not more darkness, into the world. I save my energy for the things I can do and can change.  I try, and sometimes fail, to be more mindful of my words and my thoughts.

We can’t fight anger with anger or fear with fear. I knew this. I’d just forgotten for a minute. I got scared.

But I am back.  I feel lighter now.

And mostly unafraid.

We have a new president-now what?

Like watching a train wreck, I could hardly tear myself away from watching the inauguration on television. Honestly, I was both horrified and fully cognizant of the time I was wasting. I’ve felt a bit stuck in a game of mental gymnastics ever since, a roller coaster of optimism (over one million people showed up in organized marches, vowing to resist President Trump! This is empowering!) and doom and gloom (what is this presidency going to mean for our country, the people, my children, the world?)

Nothing very good comes out of feeling stuck and stressed, that feeling of wanting to curl up in a fetal position and wait for something to change. Fortunately, I know that behaving as a child stuck in dysfunction behaves- appeasing, accommodating, denying, self-blaming or escaping- will not work in this situation either. Fear will most definitely not work.

But what do we do?

We take care of ourselves and each other, because raising our consciousness as individuals and as families, will raise the consciousness of our country, our world, our planet. It sounds so vague perhaps, but really it’s simple.

Do the next right thing. Whatever is right in this very moment, no matter how small, is the thing we do. And then the next and the next.

When I look around me, it seems we are doing it. We march. We write. We speak up. We make the call, make the art, make the bed.

Go to work.  Take a nap. Hug a child. Go for a run. Eat your vegetables. Sweep the damn floor.

Be in this moment, taking a breath, and being true to yourself right now.

The little steps may clear a pathway for bigger ones, but sometimes the right thing to do is to just do the right thing without knowing what is next. The simplest, most basic right thing is underestimated. It’s the path to peace, to healing, to change. It’s the way to our own souls and our own souls are the way to the collective soul.

We can do this.

 

 

Not Just Another New Year’s Resolution

 

images treeI LOVE the New Year holiday because we get to make whatever we want of it.

It’s the holiday that asks the bigger questions.

What do you want to make of this year?

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (Okay, I stole that line from poet Mary Oliver).

New Year’s appeals to the list maker and the goal setter in me.

I was not always a goal setter.  For years I had vague and marvelous things I wanted to do on replay in my head, but never a plan.

I am an excellent dreamer.  I could dream with the best of them. And as other introverts know, there is plenty going on inside my head to keep me occupied for years.  Take action? But I am so very entertained right here inside my own noggin. 

This can be a bad thing, in case you didn’t know.  Without a plan that includes specific action steps and time limits I would be, well, dreamin’ my life away.

Then I started to have concrete goals and planned them out and what do ya know, when I take action things actually start to happen!

Why didn’t they teach me this in school? Oh wait- this is real life we are talking about here- it’s more like quantum physics than academia.

I like the ‘work backwards’ technique. What do I want to accomplish by the end of 2017? What would that require of me?  Then I break it down. What do I need to do on a weekly basis?  Daily? What time block? And I write it down.

Most of my own goals are writing ones, and are pretty easy to define,  but I think even broad, vague sounding goals such as “get healthy” or “enjoy life” can be broken down into specific actions if we get clear on what those goals mean to us.

Perhaps it should be called a New Year’s plan instead of a New Year’s resolution.  Maybe that makes all the difference.

So what do you want in 2017?

As the poet John Anster famously said:

 Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

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.

 

 

 

Divide and Conquer

img_0337 I have come to understand how it is that editing a book takes longer than writing the actual book and I think the reason is this:  To edit a book is to rewrite it. It is writing the book all over again, only much more carefully this time around.

If getting the first draft down is creating the foundation, editing it is inspecting the foundation, and giving it walls, a roof, and doors to be unlocked by the reader; it is making sure there is something valuable to enter, a place to settle in to and not just a pile of material, no matter how gleaming the pile may be.

It’s got to work. The reader has to want to enter, and then to stay, to dwell in the place that is the story, with all its startling turns, secret crannies and brilliant color.  That is no small task for the writer, at least not for this writer. 

It is a sweet, scary feeling to be nearing the end of a project that feels like a lifetime of words, laid bare. But when the end is near and it is time to lay the carpet? Well, there’s no place like home.

Today I am reflecting on all of the tricks and plans and resources and time that I used to get myself to get it all down, to do the work, have the courage, to dig deep, and to build build build. Dig, build. Dig, build. Add. Subtract. Move. Change. Fix.

It has taken me far longer than I think it should have taken me.  No doubt that I could have worked faster, smarter, harder. I could have started the book so much sooner and wrapped it up more quickly. I could have spent more time on it, copious amounts of time these past few years, and gotten it done already.  

But here I am, with the end in sight anyhow, so close in view now that it feels right to change my strategy for wrapping things up. Up until now, I have thought in terms of time: spend time on it today, spend this minimal amount of time on it tomorrow. this week, this month. Move the book for forward by putting in the time.  Now I am thinking in terms of simple math and math has never felt so fun, so exhilarating. Never have I loved organizing and exacting and dividing so much as I do now.

It’s quite simple. To be finished editing by the end of this year, finally, I divided the number of days available to me by the number of pages that need editing. 

I am well aware at this point in the editing process, that a single page may be turned into two or three or five pages while editing. Or it can be deleted altogether. During the editing process, paragraphs are added; sometimes full scenes are too. Words eliminated, changed around, discarded. But my simple math says this:  If I edit five more pages per day, every  day (with a few exceptions for holidays) from now until December 31st, I will be done.

Here is my take on it:  When you see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is  time to do the math. Heck. maybe it is time to do this before you see the end in sight. Maybe some people work this way from the beginning, mapping  out a big project in order to calculate the precise steps, the daily requirement needed. to hold themselves to each day. But for me, it was starts and stops, ebbs and flows, feasts and famines for so much of this project.

But now that I am nearing the end, it is Divide and Conquer.

Sweet, sweet division without a remainder, lead me home. 

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!