Spreading the Words

SpreadTheWord

As I mentioned, last week, it’s been a fun (and productive) few weeks. I’ll be writing more about what I’ve learned from a mindfulness perspective in posts to come here on this blog—I’m sure. But today, I’m pleased to be sharing a couple of posts of mine that were recently published on other blogs:

The Huffington Post, “20 Tips to Help You Survive Your First Silent Meditation Retreat”

Elephant Journal, “The Moment I Chose Mindfulness”

Happy reading—and please help pass these posts along to other folks who might be interested!

Thanks so much and BE well….

jennifer

Stirring the Pot

Stirring_The_Pot

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks since I finished my mindful eating exploration. I’m more conscious of the foods I’m consuming now (and where they’re coming from)—I’ve even eliminated a few from my diet altogether (like white rice and red meat). And, I’m not sure if this is a direct correlation to my having just cleansed my body or not—but I’m feeling more focussed and aligned with my purpose than I think I ever have….

In the past week, I’ve managed to give away more than 3,200 free The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat ebooks; the ebook made Amazon’s top 100 free ebooks list and landed #1 on both the free Memoir and the free Meditation ebooks list; I found out that two major internet publications will be publishing my writing about mindfulness (one actually just ran here); and I’ve started facilitating.

I’ve been contemplating everything that’s been happening lately—and as much as my ego would love to believe “I” was the “one” who MADE all these things happen, there’s a deeper part of me that knows it wasn’t about me somehow willing these results into existence. A constellation of circumstances, people, and occurrences contributed to all the positive outcomes mentioned above. And sure, I can take credit for bringing the elements together, but each element played its own significant part in the process—and the outcomes were never in my control.

In keeping within the recent food-related themes I’ve been writing about lately, it feels like I’m in the midst of “cooking” something new in my life—the circumstances, people and occurrences I mentioned above, acting like ingredients in a new recipe of sorts.

And contemplating this, it occurs to me that a cook doesn’t actually make the food she cooks. She collects all the elements needed to make a dish—the pots/pans, the individual ingredients, the stove, the utensils, the seasoning; she places them together in an orchestrated and (at least somewhat) deliberate dance—and then she steps back to let the magic happen. The chemical reactions that occur during the process of cooking actually create the dish. They’re a direct result of the cook’s actions to set them up. But the cook doesn’t actually make the chemical reactions happen by willing them to react.

When I cook a new dish, I tend to read a bunch of different recipes and then put the cookbooks away—borrowing what speaks to me from each separate recipe, maybe adding a few of my own touches into the mix—and then stepping aside and letting the magic happen. As long as I’m mindful about the process, adjusting the heat and adding a dash of this or a pinch of that as needed—I usually end up with something satisfying. And what’s happening in my life right now feels like a similar process.

One of the beautiful things about mindfulness, beyond helping me become more focussed, is that it’s helping me build an overall appreciation for (and feeling of satisfaction from) the process of life—and my place within that process. So, right now, I’m just doing my best to only add the ingredients that I’m clear I want in my life, to keep a watchful eye on everything—and then to step aside and let the magic happen.

And so far, it’s looking like the recipe I’m in the midst of concocting is going to churn out a satisfying meal (or at least a tasty side dish). But, even if it doesn’t—that’s ok, too. My life feels like a grand experiment these days. And I’m finally accepting that not everything I “cook” is going to be Michelin star worthy. Sometimes it might even end up being a recipe for disaster…But I’m cool with that—because there’s always something to be learned along the way (especially from the disasters).

I’m not exactly sure how this new “dish” of mine is going to turn out just yet. But I can tell you this much—something smells good….

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

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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

EncouragingWords

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!