How Are You Living?

If you know a smart chiropractor, naturopathic doctor, fitness trainer, nutritionist, or pilates expert, if they are helping you lose weight or get healthier, they will ask you to do a food journal. Many of you may have tried this as a way to increase your awareness about what you are putting into your body. In fact, several studies have shown that people who keep a food diary are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off.

But have you ever considered using a similar method to increase your awareness about yourself in general? In other words, instead of a food journal…what about a How Are You Living Journal?

Sometimes it’s hard to observe ourselves…like fish observing water. But there are ways we can gather this information.

Play the Researcher

Researchers are trained not to judge their findings: whatever they uncover, they observe it, sit with it, document it, come to know it. When you do this for yourself, the information can help you achieve your goals.

Sometimes observation alone can produce change. Sometimes it’s the beginning of a process. Whatever the case, I have consistently witnessed that…awareness rules.

Record the Moment

In the directions below, I detail how to start, and keep, your Living Journal.

1. Program an alert into your phone so that several times a day you are reminded to ask yourself these questions.
2. Jot down small notes about what you see. It’s best to do this in a given moment, rather than noting some things at the end of your day. What we think is going on with us and what is actually going on with us can be slightly different. We all have blind spots.
3. If you’re doing this alone, remember to look it over each week – just writing it down is not enough to bring it into your awareness.
When we’re working together, I ask my clients to bring the journal to our check-in.
4. Consider these questions. There’s no need to answer them all, but let them jog your thoughts to record what you’re feeling in the moment…

Mind
What is running through your mind?
What is going on with your internal dialog?
What’s the emotional tone? Mellow? Kind? Grumpy? Silly?
How might you describe the atmosphere of your head space?

Body
What is your body language saying in this moment?
Are you breathing deeply or shallowly?
Do you feel tired?
Are you hydrated enough?
How would you classify what you’ve eaten today? Vibrant? Fine? Call the health department?
Take a moment to notice your body. Any tension areas? How do you feel?

Connection
Are you alone or with others?
Would you say you’re present or off in the world of thoughts?
What’s happening around you? What do you notice?

Actions
Any particular behaviors you’d like to note? Going to the gym? Moving your body in some way? Are you meditating? Are you in a bar with your buddies? Anything self-care related going on?

Assess How You Are Living

All of these questions give you information about the states-of-mind you hang out in, how you may be dragging yourself down or draining yourself of energy, how you are supporting yourself, how certain foods may be affecting you. It gives a snap shot of how you are really living.

After a week, take a look at your journal and take note: Has anything surprised you? What patterns have you noticed? What do you make of it all?

If we were in session, we would go over your journal together…

Being With Your Experience: The How and Why of Mindfulness

When I first began to notice the phenomena, I was working at a restaurant as a server and thinking to myself, “I almost can’t stand another minute of this! I can’t wait to get off work and hang out with my friends. Arrg!” Then later, standing in the club, not connecting with the music or the scene, feeling impatient, slightly agitated, just wanting to go to the next place. That’s when it occurred to me for the first time…a sudden awareness that I was in one moment….wishing I was in the next. As if the next moment would be better…throwing in the towel: on the now.

I’ve found myself hoping some moments would last forever and others would move quickly. I’ve delegated time spent on some tasks (cleaning, exercising, driving, etc) as hours I just get through in order to arrive at a more “quality” stretch. Then there are other instances, where I find myself in a unique, “really present” space, and all at once it seems that this qualifying and quantifying of points in time are nothing but an illusion. That in some way, each moment is valuable…each moment holds a richness because it is actually the only thing going. These experiences brought me to the topic of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on what’s really going on around you and within you…richly attending to this-now-moment. It’s about being with your experience…and discovering the nuances of those ventures. I’ve heard of some people enjoying cannabis from companies similar to Bud Express Now to improve their ability to focus on their immediate experience but it doesn’t work for everyone. To practice mindfulness is to wash dishes while you are washing dishes. Feeling the water against your hands, the temperature, noticing sensations, smells, and sounds. Perceiving and experiencing whatever is occurring. It’s a kind of “being-ness.” And just as with meditation…when your attention wanders you simply bring yourself back to a present-centered focus on your feeling or sensation. Play it like a game and keep your expectations low. The more often you do it…as with lifting weights in the gym to broaden your strength…you increase your bandwidth for being here now.

There’s something a little funny about the fact that we have to practice at being here now. Well, you don’t have to….so why practice mindfulness?

  • Because generally it relives stress. It’s restorative and relaxing. It’s a break, a mini-vacation, a reprieve from the nagging thoughts constantly running through our minds. For this reason, mindfulness is a great help with life-work-balance. It’s an antidote to burnout…it increases resilience.
  • Because being here now allows us to be present to the wonderment of life. It’s where we feel the connection between us and the people we love. Cool things happen here and now. Being aware of what is actually going on around you (in contrast with the past/future dialog in your head) is how we actually LIVE.

Think of the most amazing moments in your life….they aren’t likely to be instances alone replaying some concern, fear, or problem. Instead, they are the times when life pulled you deep in and you were one with the experience of it. So practicing mindfulness is a way to encourage these moments and spend more time actually living. This is why dying people recommend it. Apparently, facing death has one get clear about one’s priorities…and folks who have had this type experience consider focusing one’s attention on the present moment to be the way to make the most out of the little life you are given.

  • This type of practice can increase a sense of clarity and help you break from old, habitual patterns. It’s not unusual to find ourselves on autopilot and mindfulness breaks through this type of daily trance. If you are making a change in your life, a mindfulness practice is an essential tool.
  • Because research has shown that mindfulness can alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including OCD, anxiety, and depression, and increase positive emotions.
  • Mindfulness is about being focused on this-now-moment. Because this is the only place we have any real power, this practice can help you have more personal autonomy. We like to think we are the ones calling the shots in our lives, but the way the thinking mind works…jumping from one thought to another…who is really in control when you have little control over where you put your attention? The more we practice focusing our attention…the more influence we have over our choices.
  • When we practice focusing on this-now-moment we begin to notice more of the world around us and this means we become more creative, increase our problem solving abilities, and react more effectively to complex situations.

A quick way to jump into this practice is to practice wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Focus your attention on your senses. What can you take in, of the world around you, without any judgment? Simply let it flow over you. Focusing on the felt-sense experience. When your mind wanders, do not become frustrated, as this is normal, instead, bring your attention back to your sensation experience. This includes the feelings in and around your body…stomach grumbling, clothes touching your skin, anything. Smells, sounds, visual information. If you are with someone, experience that. Notice body language. Experiment with what it means to be here now. Instead of thinking about living…LIVE. 

Take a Moment…

You have to slow down to enjoy this video made by Rishi Kaneria starring stuntman Dante Ha. I love art that pulls your attention into the moment and the unseen world revealed by slow motion.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/27612305]

What’s Occupying Your Mind? Take a Break Now and Then…Here’s How

We have thousands of thoughts per day and often ponder some of the same things over and over again. Have you ever taken the time to notice what messages, thoughts, or stories run through? Consider trying to observe the top 5 or 10 things that occupy your mind on a regular basis. Today, after you read this, watch your inner dialogue, and jot down what you notice. Tomorrow morning, as you get ready for your day, remind yourself to look at what floats through and write it down. Take a few days to really notice the pattern….and be honest with yourself. After you complete your list…ask yourself a few things:

Are you surprised by what you’ve discovered? Are your thoughts generally productive? How do they help you? How do they get in the way?
What relationship do your thoughts have with your feeling states? For example, do your thoughts change throughout the day? When you’re tired, hungry, rushed…how does this affect your thoughts? Can you detect when your thoughts steer or influence your mood, or the other way around, when your mood has an affect on your thinking?

There is a value in learning to observe your thoughts and it’s also useful to take breaks from them. Thoughts are the normal state of affairs for the mind. In other words, we are almost always having thoughts, but there are various ways to take a holiday from the internal dialogue. Here are two:

  1. Affirmations – The point here is to have a way to replace random thoughts with something more directive and supportive such as: I Am Okay; or I Accept Who I Am; or I Am Here. It’s best if you create an affirmation suited to your own needs; the trick is keeping it helpful and simple. Then if you find yourself wanting a break from thoughts, slowly repeat that affirmation over and over.
  2. Body Scan – My personal favorite. This is an exercise that can be done sitting or standing. When first learning this exercise, it’s best to do alone. After you learn the ropes you can do this anywhere. To get started, bring your awareness to the bottom of your feet. Notice how they feel, really feel them. Can you feel a certain temperature? Pressure? Soreness? Anything you feel is worthy of observation. No judgment. No trying to change what’s there. Don’t even interpret what you feel…just feel it. Now move up through both of your feet…noticing what you feel. Then your ankles, then your calves. Do this process slowly through your entire body. This can be done in small parts or large regions. When you reach the top of your head you can finish or continue scanning back down your body. When you decide to end, go back to whatever you were doing before, but try to keep your awareness in this feeling place rather than returning to your thoughts. Some call focusing one’s attention in this way: being in a state of mindfulness.

This is about getting more conscious about what influences our lives, our choices, how we show up in the world. In the game of life, awareness rules. Some nifty tools aren’t bad either.

What Is Important To You?

Candy Chang
A few weeks ago I posted how reflecting on our mortality can be a useful tool for coming into this-now-moment. Now is the only space that’s real…now is the one area we truly have to work with…now is where life is happening.

New Orleans’s artist Candy Chang is on to a similar theme with this thoughtful art piece. She creates art within cities that people can participate in. And from the looks of it…this participation changes the art itself and the people involved.

To support her project she has also created similar but individual, limited-edition paintings to help you remember what’s important to you.