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Food for Thought

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A few weeks ago, I mentioned I was starting an elimination diet to help me get some clarity about how my body reacts to certain foods—and to give myself the opportunity to be more mindful about eating, in general.

The elimination diet has proven elucidating. I still have a few foods left on the list to test. But here’s where I’ve landed thus far:

White rice causes body anxiety almost immediately after eating it. I even tested this on two separate occasions to be sure. And, Yup. Me and white rice don’t seem to be compatible. (MERP)

Brown rice seems ok, though… (YAY)

And, although dairy doesn’t cause stomach pain or anxiety, it definitely seems to effect my sinuses. Within hours of re-introducing it into my diet, I started experiencing minor post nasal drip and sinus cavity pressure/headaches. During my fast/juice cleanse, I experienced zero sinus issues—which was unusual for me (I’ve always had chronic sinus inflammation that neither I nor any doctor was ever able to diagnose). I’m not sure if I’m willing to give up dairy completely….But now that I’m clear that it’s the cause of my sinus symptoms, I’m definitely going to start cutting significantly back.

I also discovered corn doesn’t seem to be one of my best friends, either. While I can’t say I had pain when I ate it—my stomach didn’t quite feel “right” afterward (lasting for two days)…

As for meat, I’ve never been much of a red meat eater (I’ve always noticed stomach pain after eating it in the past). But I do love fish. And chicken and pork are also foods that I typically eat once and a while. Since fish and chicken have both been tested and seem to be in the “OK” column, I’m going to continue eating them for now (pork has yet to be tested). It’s possible that I might end up eliminating meat from my diet altogether at some point—but I’m still contemplating this.

Another thing I noted during this whole mindful eating experiment is how, prior to taking an intentional look at the food I’ve been eating, I spent zero time thinking about where the food came from—and if it came from an animal, if that animal had been ethically raised (including whether or not it was “humanely” slaughtered). I just ate what was available and wasn’t mindful about anything except the price.

Chatting with one of my mindfulness mentors about all this, she suggested I consider investigating sustainably farmed food. I didn’t even know what this term meant before this whole experience (sure, I’d heard of it—but I never bothered to actually look into what it entailed).

So, I made some time to sit down and do some research. I’m still going through all this info and am doing my best to educate myself (there’s a lot of info out there—and it’s not as black and white as one would hope). But, from what I can currently assess, eating organic, sustainably farmed food whenever possible seems to align with who I know myself to be—and how I want to show up in the world.

Maybe it appeals to you, too?….

Here are some resources to help you decide for yourself:

Sustainable Food Resources:

Farmer’s Markets Locator:

CSA Locator (Community Supported Agriculture):

Mindful Living Challenge: Leave No Trace

Mindful_Living5

Mindfulness isn’t just about sitting down to meditate every day—it’s about bringing the practice into our daily lives… And, if you’re looking for some fun ways to do this, I highly recommend checking out, How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.

Bays presents 52 practical mindfulness exercises (one for each week). And each exercise includes tips on how to remind yourself to do it, as well as deeper life lessons connected to it. Regardless of how long you’ve been practicing, it’s a great book for any mindfulness enthusiast to have handy.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been posting “Mindful Living Challenges” based on Bays’ exercises over on The Mindfulness Diaries Facebook page as well as in our Google+ Community. And this week, I’m posting “Leave No Trace.”

If you feel positively moved to do so, give the exercise a try and see what comes up for you—and maybe even share your experiences/observations with “The Mindfulness Diaries” social media communities…We’d love to hear from you!

Detoxing

Detox

Last week, I mentioned how I’d been feeling like it’s time to reexamine my relationship to the food I’ve been eating (and why I’ve been eating it). And in thinking about how to go about doing this, it occurred to me that maybe I could take a “mindful” approach…

In mindfulness, we use the technique of taking a deliberate pause in order to create the space to observe our inner experience more objectively. So, I figured taking a deliberate pause from my regular eating habits might give me the perspective I needed to help me observe my eating habits more objectively…

The “pause” I decided to take came in the form of a fast/cleanse. And here’s what it looked like:

3 days (water-only)

7 days (organic, freshly squeezed fruit and veggie juice, water, home-made organic veggie broth—no salt, and organic herbal tea).

As expected, the first three days of water-only were intense… I had very low energy, severe body aches and massive hunger “pains.” But once the juicing started, I started feeling more and more vibrant. In fact, within two days of solely ingesting juice, I was feeling better than I’d felt in I-don’t-know-how-long.

Surprisingly, I didn’t experience any intense cravings for any particular foods (I honestly can’t believe I didn’t dream about dark chocolate the entire time—one of my staples)… But I definitely missed eating eggs, carbs and cheese. And the succulent smells of panfried sausage and chicken wafting in our kitchen when Kate and Angus were eating made my mouth water on a few occasions, for sure.

At one point, I deliberately stuck my nose right up into Kate’s dinner and just stood there, savoring the aroma. To my delight, however, I was able to simply appreciate the smell without feeling the need to take a bite. This was definitely a new experience for me (and one I’m happy to know I’m capable of having again in the future)…

But tests of will-power aside, I think the most significant thing I observed throughout the whole experience is how amazing my body and mind felt…. I wasn’t expecting to feel any positive changes throughout the process—I honestly thought the whole experience was just going to be pretty hellish…

But I definitely felt better during it. And not just kind-of better—much better.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the absence of what I’ve grown to consider my body’s baseline—a chronic low to medium grade anxiety. I can’t recall one moment during the entire experience where I felt that bug-eyed, tight, balled-up, cringing feeling throughout my body that I’m normally managing to one degree or another. It was seriously absent. And I’m kinda in awe.

Somehow I just stopped “sweating the small stuff”—and it happened pretty much from day one. Perhaps it was the mental act of going through such a drastic experience that put things in perspective for me. Or maybe it was because I stopped eating foods that I’d, unknowingly, been reactive to. I really don’t know…

So, how will this experience impact my relationship with food moving forward?…

Well, now that I’ve had a “taste” of what it feels like to live virtually anxiety-free—I plan to do my best to keep myself in this newfound state of feeling freakin’ great. The positive results from having eliminated most of what I used to eat on a regular basis has lead me to believe that I’m probably adversely reactive to more foods than just gluten. And now I’m intent on figuring out exactly which ones.

So, moving ahead, I’ve decided to experiment with an elimination diet. Because, if being more mindful of what I put into my body means that I can continue creating this newfound sense of ease, alertness and wellbeing—then I’m totally game. Even if it means I might have to give up some of my favorite foods because I discover they’re toxic to my body.

As I sit here writing this right now, there’s a part of me that can’t believe I’m willing to take this next step (I’m fairly “attached” to the foods I’ve been eating)… But I guess I’m just at that stage in my journey where I can no longer eat something on a regular basis that I know is harmful to me. I’ve had to give up certain relationships in my past because they were toxic in some way. It feels like what’s happening now is just another expression of this….

Simply put, I’m done with toxic relationships. I’m done having them with other people. I’m done having them with myself.

And now I’m done having them with food.

Paying Attention Isn’t Always Fun

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I’ve been noticing my relationship to food has been shifting over the past month or so… I’ve been more inquisitive about what I’m eating and why—more mindful, if you will…And I’ve started questioning some of the habitual choices I’ve been “mindlessly” making over the years—feeling like it’s time to get more clarity about what I want to eat (and why I want to eat it) moving ahead.

Ever since I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance (approximately a year ago), I was forced to start reading food labels—careful to avoid foods that contained anything with gluten in it. And, you bet, I was pissed when I first heard the diagnosis.

NO. MORE. BREAD?!… BREAD IS MY MOST FAVORITE FOOD ON THE PLANET! 

I lived on a steady diet of bagels and pizza for over a decade in NYC (with chronic and “unexplainable” stomach pain diagnosed as “IBS” from traditional Western doctors at the time). But then I finally visited a holistic practitioner to try and get down to the bottom of my stomach pain, and the news about my intolerance to gluten arrived.

The reality of my situation hit me hard. BAM. And I had two choices: either continue living with the chronic stomach pain, or stop eating gluten (ie—my most favorite foods).

Now, before starting my journey with mindfulness, I would’ve said screw it—I’m gonna keep eating bread! But one of the effects of my mindfulness practice is that I’ve started developing a fairly high dose of compassion for myself. And, as much as I wished it wasn’t true—I just couldn’t ignore the reality of my diagnosis: that gluten was hurting my body. I couldn’t knowingly put myself through that pain any longer….

So, the gluten thing was the first time I’d ever really started paying close attention to the food I was eating. And since noticing how the absence of gluten has been positively effecting my body and emotions ever since, I’ve also started noticing how other foods have been negatively effecting them—other foods that I love almost as much as bread and pizza.

And the thing is—I’ve also noticed that I’ve been dragging my feet about cutting back on these other foods… I’ve had feelings on some level that they’re hurting my body—noticing how they often make me feel anxious, lethargic, gassy, nauseous, etc. But I’ve been continuing to eat them anyway because I don’t have any definitive “proof” (like a doctor’s diagnosis) that they’re doing me harm.

THE SYMPTOMS AREN’T AS SEVERE AS THE ONES I FEEL WHEN I EAT GLUTEN. IT’S OK TO KEEP EATING WHATEVER ELSE I WANT. IT CAN’T BE THAT BAD FOR ME… I’LL BE FINE. 

If you think that sounds like some Shit talking—well, you’re right. And the thing is, my Shit doesn’t speak from my heart—it speaks from my hurt. In its own way, it means well… But it wants what it wants when it wants it—because whatever it wants is generally to “protect” me from feeling whatever big emotions it thinks I can’t handle… And burying unprocessed emotional pain under the distraction of food—especially food that causes seemingly minor physical pain or feelings of angst, etc. seems to do the trick. Plus it feels good in the moment: BONUS!

Now, of course I don’t “know” for a “fact” that all this is what’s really happening when I reach for food that hurts. But I can say with confidence that I “know” it on another level….

You see, another thing I’ve noticed about my mindfulness practice is that when something comes up, and I sense a hint of Truth trying to bubble to the surface—instead of ignoring it (like I used to do)… These days, I can’t help but pay attention to it.

However un-fun paying attention to it might feel.

Being Mindful of “Good” Judgment

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One of the biggest things I’ve recognized on this path of mindfulness is how judgmental my mind tends to be. It judges people, things, experiences…. Whatever it encounters (especially if it’s something new), my mind tends to slap a label on it. And I’m not talking about objective labeling here—like what I blogged about a few weeks ago…. I’m talking about the reactive deeming of whatever the object of my mind’s attention is as “bad” or “good.” “Wrong” or “right.” “The worst” or “the best.” Or some variation in between.

Basically, I’m talking about labels that judge.

In my daily life, I’ve been paying attention to negative judgments that my mind generates, doing my best to catch them when they arise—and using the aforementioned objective noting/labeling technique (judging. judging) to gently let the judgments go.

This technique has been effective in helping me catch—and, in turn, start to reduce my negative judgments… But, I recently had an “aha” moment where I realized I’ve only been working on half the “judgment issue”….

The “aha” moment happened when some friends and I were chatting at our monthly mindfulness group… I was sharing how I’d noticed that I was experiencing a particular set of negative judgments lately—and how my mind tends to be overly critical, in general. And then one of my friends says:

“We don’t really think about this much, but judgments can come in the form of praise, as well….”

Cue needle scratch/time freeze moment.

My mind immediately flashed to a handout that Kate and I received from our son’s school (now hanging on our refrigerator) listing “words that judge.” It was the first time I’d ever seen what I’d considered a list of positive words labeled as “negative.” And I remember thinking… How could praising someone possibly do any harm?

The truth was—I’d actually experienced how (first hand) but it hadn’t fully registered until that moment….

You see, growing up, I’d heard my fair share of negative judgments. Mostly from my dad—and mostly about the government, the boys I was dating in high school, and the people who used to cut him off while he was driving on the highway. Most everything and everyone was fodder for dad’s judgments. And hearing them never felt good.

On the flip side, dad was also in the habit of telling me how incredible I was at this or that, and how pretty much everything I managed to do was always, in his words, “the best!” (even if, on a more objective scale, it was only mediocre)….

And although I know dad genuinely intended to be kind—to express his love and support in an effort to help me feel “good” about myself… The fact is, his “praise” often felt just as crappy as hearing his negative judgments—especially because I was never given any comfort or reassurance of his love (and my worthiness of it) when I failed.

Case in point—I remember taking French Horn lessons when I was in junior high. I was okay. Not great. Not bad. Just okay…

At my first recital (my first and last…), I sat down next to the piano accompanist and tried to take a deep breath to play my first note. But I couldn’t inhale any air—I was hyperventilating so badly from nerves and the pressure to be “good” that I could barely breathe (let alone play the instrument). I tried and tried. But I didn’t manage to blow one note out of my horn that evening. My recital was deemed a “failure.”

And, the message I got from both my parents that night was that I was one, too.

Because the next thing I remember after rushing off the stage is the ride home in the backseat of dad’s car—staring out the window as my parents sat up front in complete silence. Neither of them said one word to me. No comfort. No reassurance that I was okay and that they still loved me, despite my poor performance.

Nothing.

Looking back on it now, I’m guessing this is when I decided I “needed” to achieve if I wanted my parents attention and affection. I’m also fairly certain my “good girl” and perfectionist tendencies sprang out of these types of interactions with my parents when I didn’t meet their expectations…

These days, however (and thankfully!…), I’m slowly learning that my worthiness isn’t predicated on my performance.

I remember shortly after Kate and I fell in love a few years ago…. I was doing a public reading of a comedy script I’d co-written, and I was a basket-case about it—nervous that nobody would laugh or find it funny. And worried that Kate might judge me if the reading was a flop. I’ll never forget what she said—

“I’m going to love you no matter how anyone reacts to your script, baby. I love you for who you are. Not for what you do or how you do it.”

Cue needle scratch/time freeze moment #2 (with some heavy waterworks this time).

You mean, I can “fail” and still feel loved?!…

YES! 🙂

This was a whole new concept. And, holy crap, did it kick off a tidal wave of healing that I’m still in the midst of integrating.

So, what’s my take-away after all this introspection?…

Being mindful of my judgment—both negative AND positive—is critical.

This week, I invite you to join me in being mindful of judgments—keeping an especially close eye on any “good” judgments that might arise. Because “good” judgments can set up unfair expectations. And I’m fairly certain the last thing any of us want to do is have our loved ones thinking they always need to “perform” in order to receive our love and encouragement.

Onward and upward!

A Tale of Inner Melodrama (Episode One)

Cleaning

March 5, 2014

10:48am

It’s been a challenging morning… Did some intense Yoga online that made me feel queazy. And then I was convinced my iPhone got destroyed in the washing machine…

That was quite a roller coaster.

As soon as I noticed it was gone, I scoured the entire apartment—all my usual spots: the bathroom, the nightstand in the bedroom, the kitchen counter, my desk….

It was nowhere to be found.

SHIT. WHERE’S MY PHONE?…

I popped my head into the bedroom where Kate sat propped up on the bed, working on her laptop.

“…Have you seen my iPhone?”

She looked up from her computer. “Sorry, baby…Maybe check between the cushions in the couch?”

I headed out to the living room, shooed our 7-month old kitten, Buster, off the couch—and pulled up the cushions to find:

(1) dime

(2) halves of a sesame rice cracker

and…

(1) small plastic lego man’s “head”

FUCK…

Then it occurred to me that it might be in one of the pockets of my bathrobe—the very bathrobe I’d handed to Kate after breakfast (before Yoga) when she asked if I had anything I wanted to wash…

Back to the bedroom.

“—It’s in one of the pockets of my bathrobe. I always put my phone in my bathrobe pocket when I’m cooking breakfast. I’m sure that’s where I left it. Did you start the wash already?”

“Yes.”

“Did you check the pockets?…”

“…No.”

Silence.

I closed my eyes. Took a deep breath.

“…Can you please check if it’s in there?”

Kate slowly moved her laptop aside and got up to walk back to the laundry room. I followed—watching as my mind immediately jumped to try and blame her for not checking the pockets before tossing my robe in the washing machine. I was clearly upset. My chest tightening. Blood pressure rising. And, despite all the accusations running wild in my mind, I didn’t say anything out loud—just slowly sat down at the kitchen table and waited as she paused the washer to sort through the wet laundry.

SHE DIDN’T CHECK THE POCKETS…. MY PHONE’S PROBABLY IN THE WASHING MACHINE RIGHT NOW. RUINED…. WHY DIDN’T SHE CHECK MY POCKETS?!

“Meow….”

My inner rant interrupted, I looked down to see Buster arch his back and start rubbing up against my leg. Then he plopped down by my feet, thwaking his tail on the floor as he continued staring up at me.

And I just sat there, blankly staring back—stewing in my Shit….. Flashing to memories of my mom handing me friendship pins and love notes she’d found in my jeans while doing my laundry growing up.

CHECKING POCKETS IS PART OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF DOING THE LAUNDRY… SHE SHOULD HAVE CHECKED THE POCKETS.

Sitting there, staring down at the cat…I recognized my Shit trying to lay blame where it wasn’t due. Then the more objective side of me kicked in.

Just because mom checked my pockets back when she did my laundry doesn’t mean Kate has to… It’s not Kate’s responsibility….I should have checked my pockets before giving her my robe to wash. If my phone’s in the washer, and it’s ruined—I have nobody to blame but myself.

But then my moment of objectivity started sliding into an unwelcome appearance from The Queen of “Should’s.”

I SHOULD HAVE CHECKED MY POCKETS BEFORE GIVING HER MY BATHROBE….

I SHOULD HAVE PAID MORE ATTENTION TO WHERE I PUT MY PHONE….

I SHOULD’VE BEEN MORE CAREFUL—I SHOULD BE MORE CAREFUL IN GENERAL….

Beyond assuming the phone was in the washing machine and ruined—an assumption I was fully aware wasn’t even substantiated yet—I chose to continue chasing my stories of gloom and doom—this time, adding “victim” to the list of characters wreaking havoc inside my mind.

I CAN’T AFFORD A NEW FUCKING PHONE RIGHT NOW. IPHONES ARE EXPENSIVE. I CAN’T DEAL WITH AN ADDED EXPENSE…THIS IS THE LAST THING I NEEDED TODAY.

“—Well, the good news is, your phone’s not in the washing machine…”

Buster sprang up as Kate breezed passed—on her way back to the bedroom.

“Really?!…”

She kept walking. I kept ruminating—still completely absorbed by my Shit.

IT’S NOT IN THE WASHER?… WHERE THE FUCK IS IT THEN?!…

I popped up from my chair and did another sweep through the house—but still nothing.

SERIOUSLY?!… IT’S GOT TO BE HERE SOMEWHERE…

Back to the bedroom. Completely perplexed. Brow furrowed.

“Are you 100% positive it wasn’t in the machine? I just searched the entire house again, and it’s not here…”

Kate continued typing on her laptop—didn’t look up at me as she spoke, “…I guess it’s possible it’s still in there. The clothes were wet and crumpled, but I didn’t see it.”

“Can I check?”

“Sure—but you’ll need to wait until the cycle’s done.”

“How much longer?”

“Five minutes.”

I turned and shut the bedroom door behind me. Frustration mounting as I walked down the hall out into the living room, I could feel myself starting to tremble—the need for some sort of physical release escalating with each millisecond.

“Arrrrrrggggggh!!!!” I screamed as I grabbed a throw pillow from the chaise and started pounding it against the side of the couch.

Then Buster sprang out of nowhere (scaring the shit out of me) and latched onto my ankle—drawing blood with his claws.

“Goddamnit!”

The cat ran off into the kitchen, as I collapsed onto the couch—tears welling in my eyes. And I just let them flow—letting what needed to come out get out.

After a few minutes, the tears subsided, and I could feel my body and mind start to relax and soften. I grabbed a tissue, blew my nose and headed back into the laundry room to wait for the washer’s cycle to stop.

But when I walked into the room—there it was.

My iPhone.

On top of a case of Friskies—where I’d clearly placed it when I was cleaning the cat box earlier that morning before Yoga…

Back to the bedroom.

….I slowly opened the door and stuck the phone through the crack—holding it out like a white flag.

“I found it…” Kate looked up from her laptop as I walked in and plopped down on the bed.

“Annnnd.. the cat totally attacked me. I’m bleeding…”

“Where was it?”

“On top of the cat food case in the laundry room.”

“—Did the cat attack you when you were yelling?”

“Yes. He acts crazy when the energy in the house gets high. I should’ve seen it coming…”

She got up and grabbed the first aid kit.

“Oh baby… You’re going to be okay.”

“I know…” I rolled over onto my back. Stared up at the ceiling. “…I’m sorry if I wasn’t very nice to you.”

“You acted like a total jerk face—like I’d ruined your whole world…”

“I know, baby. I’m sorry… I wanted to blame you at first—but then I saw it wasn’t your fault. If I had lost my phone in the washing machine, and it was ruined—I wouldn’t have blamed you. I promise. I knew it was my responsibility. But I didn’t communicate that to you. I’m sorry… Do you forgive me?” I looked up at her with puppy-dog eyes and my “aren’t I cute” smile.

“…Yes.” She tossed me a reluctant smirk. “…And I’m glad you found your phone.”

“Me, too.”

She put the Band-Aid on my leg and headed back to work on her laptop. And I just lay there, contemplating the inner melodrama I’d just witnessed….

The blaming. Catastrophizing. And borderline self-flagellation. My Shit was running almost full throttle. And although I let it move through me with minimal negative effects on myself and those around me—I’d still chosen to go down a road filled with unnecessary discomfort for all.

But… this is why I practice mindfulness (one of many the reasons).

Because a few years ago—all my internal Shit would have been flung around at those in my wake. I would never have taken responsibility for the phone being lost. And, if it had been ruined—I would have blamed anyone but myself.

I’ll never be “perfect”—but I’m learning how to see my Shit when it shows up—and to responsibly handle it. The only thing I can do when it spills is forgive myself.

And then clean it up.

Noting

thinking

I’m pretty sure I mentioned that I started UCLA’s year-long Certification in Mindfulness Facilitation program back in January. And, wow, it’s been a whole lot of learning so far….In so many ways. And we’ve only just begun (I’ll be sharing more details in future posts, so stay tuned)!

One of the program’s requirements is to write a 1-2 page paper every two weeks on an assigned topic. Our latest assignment entailed describing one of our meditation sessions—so, I thought I’d go ahead and share it here with you, as well. For those who might be new(er) to meditation, it’ll give you an idea of how you might consider working with thoughts as they arise.

One technique I use is called “mental noting” or “labeling.” Science has proven that noting or labeling a thought as it arises regulates the emotional circuitry in the brain, creating a calming effect in the body and giving separation from the thought. I find the technique quite helpful. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful, too! 🙂

“Noting in meditation has many functions. The primary one is keeping the meditator present – sometimes it is called an ‘anchor’ to the present. The mind is less likely to wander off if one keeps up a steady stream of relaxed noting. If the mind does wander, the noting practice can make it easier to reestablish mindfulness.

Another function of noting is to better acknowledge or recognize what is occurring: the clearer one’s recognition, the more effective one’s mindfulness. Naming can strengthen recognition. Sometimes this can be a kind of truth-telling, when we are reluctant to admit something about ourselves or about what is happening.

A third function of noting is to help recognize patterns in one’s experience. A frequently-repeated note reveals a frequently-recurring experience. For example, persistent worriers may not realize it until they see how often they note ‘worry’.

And fourth, as described above, mental noting gives the thinking mind something to do rather than leaving it to its own devices.

A fifth function is disentangling us from being preoccupied or overly identified with experience. Noting can help us ‘step away’ so that we might see more clearly. For example, noting ‘wanting’ might pull us out of the preoccupation with something we want. This may not be immediate, but by repeatedly noting ‘wanting, wanting,’ one may be able to be aware of the wanting without being caught by it. As an antidote to drowning in strong emotion or obsessive thinking, mental noting is sometimes called a ‘life preserver’.

Noting can also help maintain a non-reactive form of attention. Calmly and equanimously noting what is happening, we are less likely to get caught up in emotional reactions….Noting helps us to see mindfully while remaining free of what we see.

The tone of the inner voice that notes may reveal less-than-equanimous reactions to what we are trying to be mindful of. The noting may sound harsh, bored, scared, hesitant, or excited, to name just a few possibilities. By noticing and adjusting the tone, we may become more balanced and equanimous.” (quote from the Insight Meditation Center)

And here’s my meditation play-by-play… 😉

February 19, 2014

1:20pm

I sit down in the wicker chair outside. Place a small, rectangular pillow in the small of my back. Slip out of my flip-flops and feel the dirt beneath my feet. Pressing “start” on the Insight Timer app on my iPhone, I leave the phone on the ground as the bell DINGS.

Closing my eyes, I adjust my posture. Straighten my back. Intertwine my fingers and place my hands in my lap.

I hear the sounds of birds singing. Feel the warmth of the sun on my body. The wash of air on my face from the gentle breeze.

Scanning through my body, I feel a slight tug of sadness in my heart—a dull ache pulling at my chest. I sit with it for a moment, allowing it to just be. Holding space for tears if they need to fall. But they don’t….

The tug fades. I hear an airplane overhead. My mind starts to wander.

I bet the cat’s going to escape at some point. He’s going to bolt out the door when one of us isn’t careful. I wonder if he’ll keep running, or if he’ll want to come back…

I notice myself worrying and say so in my mind.

(Worrying. Worrying.)  

And then I redirect my attention to the sensation of my breath. My chest rising and falling. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. My body feels warm.

I notice that I’m conscious of being conscious of what’s happening during this meditation…

I notice a desire and a sense of striving to remember what’s happening as it’s happening. I start thinking about the possibility of picking up my notebook and starting to write down my stream of consciousness as I’m experiencing it. Or maybe record myself talking into my iPhone mic to capture my thoughts.

No I shouldn’t do that. That doesn’t feel right…

I notice I’m judging what “right” means. That I’m using the word, “shouldn’t.” How I don’t want to do this assignment “wrong…” Then I notice I’ve drifted off again.

(Thinking. Thinking.)

The call of a crow in the distance. My toes throbbing in the heat. The feeling of my beating heart beat.

“Sit down Jennifer. Thank you for coming… We’ve been looking forward to making these meditations happen…” I hear these words as I watch the scene of an upcoming meeting unfolding in my imagination.

I catch myself.

(Fantasizing.)

What if I can’t do this? What if I’m terrible at facilitating mindfulness?…

(Worrying.)

My body feels warm. Too warm. I want to take my fleece sweatshirt off.

I wonder how much longer it’ll be before the bell rings and if I’m going to swelter in the heat—or if I should just stop meditating and take my sweatshirt off.

I notice how I want to squirm and move away from the discomfort. How every molecule of me wants to move. But I remain still.

How am I going to remember all this?… Maybe that’s not the point.

I feel the impulse again to start writing all this down. I notice my desire. The fear beneath it….

A siren wailing off in the distance. A trash truck dumping cans down the street…

I can feel my pulse quickening – my heart beating faster. The sun’s heat no longer feels soothing but suffocating…

(Worrying. Wanting.)

I take a deep breath. Then another.

The sound of cars whooshing by on the freeway off in the distance. More birds singing. My belly rising. The red and blue amorphous blobs I can see behind my eyelids. The breeze brushing against my face.

Then my insides feel quiet. Like they’re floating.

DING.

The sound of the bell reverberating. Relief. Then anticipation. I pause for one last deep breath.

And open my eyes.

The Mindfulness Diaries (free ebook TODAY)

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You might have heard me talking, in one form or another, about the book I’ve been working on for the past nine months. It came to “be” after returning from my first nine-day silent meditation retreat this past May….

As I was reintegrating back into my life in L.A., I felt moved to journal about my struggle to maintain my sense of compassion during the retreat (for both myself and others). And, while I was writing about my experiences, I felt a palpable and unexpected sense of purpose—so strong, in fact, that I was, literally, struck by sudden tears of gratitude and joy when I realized that I wasn’t just writing about my experiences for me…. I was writing about them to share with others.

In 20+ years of journal writing, I’d never experienced anything quite like that moment.

Nine months later, I’ve officially set up my very own small press, HOWD Media. And The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat is now officially available in paperback and as a Kindle ebook. It’s been a long road, but I’ve SO enjoyed the journey… And now I’m very excited to be sharing the result with you! 🙂

My marketing strategy is to roll the book out slowly. So, before I start promoting it to the masses, I’m offering the Kindle ebook for FREE to friends and supporters. This free ebook promotion on Amazon begins TODAY (Monday, Feb 24th) and ends at midnight (PST) TOMORROW (Tuesday, Feb 25th). You can download your free ebook by visiting the book’s page on Amazon here.

Your feedback is incredibly valuable—and greatly appreciated. So, once you’ve read the book, please consider writing a short review on Amazon and/or Goodreads to help spread the word (you’ll also find links to do so in the back of the ebook)….The more reviews a book gets the more successful it has the chance to be!

Here’s a short blurb:

The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat

Jennifer Howd had been building a mindfulness practice for two and a half years before taking on the challenge of her first nine-day silent meditation retreat. In this debut memoir in “The Mindfulness Diaries” series, she chronicles the humorous—and often harrowing—adventures of the dueling inner voices that emerge in the silence: one intent on focusing on the seemingly negative aspects of her experiences, and the other on helping her see the positivity that can come from them.

Illuminating for those who are new to mindfulness and resonant for those with established practices, The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat is a vulnerable, touching, playful peek behind the curtain into the mind of a woman learning how to befriend herself.

Thank you so much for your support—and please feel free to pass this promotion along to any of YOUR friends….

Happy reading!

With Gratitude,
jennifer

Liminality

Seed

Last week, I wrote about “personal space” and the various ways I find myself needing it. It’s a topic I think about often. And, apparently, I’m not alone…. Several of you reached out to me, sharing the importance of finding and creating personal space in your own lives, as well.

One reader who saw the post on LinkedIn’s Mindfulness Group expressed his enthusiasm about the value of personal space and brought my attention to a term I’d never heard before—“liminal space.” He was introduced to this concept when in recovery from his divorce.

“Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology (a “liminal state”) and in the anthropological theories of ritual….The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation. It is a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed – a situation which can lead to new perspectives.” (Definition from Askdefine.com)

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to this space. Hell, I feel like I’ve been experiencing one long liminal space for years (beginning when my mom passed away in 2001).

In his essay, Liminal Spaces and Transformation, Robert D. Rossel, Ph.D. captures the feeling of liminality and describes how mindfulness can be especially helpful during these periods.

“Sometimes life is a lot like this. We get kicked in the gut. Nothing works. We can’t even tell what is up and what is down. All of our familiar and cherished ways of making sense of the world have flown out the window. We feel completely in the dark….As I look back over my life it is usually such times that are associated with major life transitions. Is that true for you too? Isn’t this the dying that has to take place for us to learn new ways to see?

In Buddhism there is something called “the middle way.” In the middle way there are no reference points. We chose to let go of habitual responses and the usual attachments and things to grasp and see in the world. Instead, we embrace uncertainty and become more and more curious about a world where things can be both up and down, good and bad, bright and dark at the same time.

If we can practice resting in the middle, we learn new ways of orienting in our world that draw on other senses we didn’t even know we had. As we exercise these new senses—intuition, beginner’s mind, faith – the world takes on a new shape and we can see things with new eyes. This gives us a way to stay centered in the tumult, to see possibilities where before we might have been mired in despair. Above all, it gives us ways of being with those feelings that nag at us most insistently when we feel caught in those painful liminal spaces—loneliness, boredom, anxiety.

It seems so basic to our conditioning that we seek some form of resolution from painful emotions. We feel more secure in the familiar world of praise or blame, victory or defeat, feeling good or feeling bad than in the liminal world where we sit with what we feel and do not rush to resolution. When we cultivate different practices that allow us to rest in the middle, we discover over time a growing ability to relax into the unfamiliar and eventually turn our usual fear driven patterns upside down. That, to me, is the essence of transformation.”

Life’s in-betweens can sometimes feel endless—a long chain of one liminal space after the other. Yet, it’s these in-between spaces that create the opportunities for us to grow and evolve—to shed the previous ways of being that no longer serve us and to mindfully embody the person we endeavor to become.

Personal Space

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I’ve been thinking about the concept of “personal space” lately… How it’s not just a physical thing—how we can also experience personal space in an emotional and mental way, too…. I’ve come to realize how important it is to my well being that I get hefty doses of all three varieties. When I’m getting “enough personal space,” I feel comfortable and at ease.

And when I don’t get enough of it—I feel edgy. Suffocated. Compressed. Panicky.

I’m a tall woman (6’0 to be precise). So, I’ve always been acutely aware of my personal space in the physical sense—especially not having enough of it….My pants and shirts are often too short, and the beds I sleep in—never long enough; cars rarely have enough leg room for me; tables are often too short to cross my legs underneath…. And the list goes on.

I grew up in the middle of the woods in rural NH, where I played in the vast expanse of woods behind our house. I had ample personal space back then….I could run around in every direction—with nothing but birch and pine trees in my path. The forest was dense. But it felt like an endless expanse. I never felt constricted.

Inside my home was another story, though… Sure, the house I lived in with my mom and dad was amply sized…. But, a palace wouldn’t have provided enough space for me to comfortably sit with the tension that hung between my parents most days. Looking back on it now, it’s no wonder I spent most of my time outside in those woods.

When I left home for college, I ended up in NYC, where I continued to live for the next 16 years. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I’d inadvertently swapped one sensorially claustrophobic environment for another—this one bombarding me from the outside.

Around the 14 year mark of living in that city, I remember thinking to myself…

I’m a ball of anxiety—neurotic beyond belief. But, I don’t think this is who I am at my core. I don’t think this is ME

I saw how I’d become a product of my environment. The city became a part of me because I never gave myself any space from it, and my nervous system just couldn’t take it any longer. I needed to be somewhere where I didn’t hear, see, smell, touch—or sense anyone else. I needed “personal space.” In every sense of the word.

So I moved to Los Angeles.

Yes, I’m aware this might not seem like the anecdote to sensory overload. But LA seemed like the equivalent of moving back to “the country” at the time.

Reflecting on it now, it makes perfect sense that mindfulness would end up resonating so loudly with me. One of the core elements of the practice is about intentionally creating (and gently holding) emotional and mental space for ourselves.

When I sit down to meditate every day, I’m giving myself the amount of space I need to “be.”

When I sit down to meditate, I’m giving myself the personal space I need to be ME.

(image from http://www.toonpool.com)