Essential Attitude: Acceptance

Returning to our exploration of the seven essential attitudes of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn defines acceptance as:

The process of acceptance begins with the willingness to see things exactly as they are in the present moment. Can you keep your attention focused exactly here and now, taking each moment as it comes and connecting with whatever presents itself? Often, to be able to accept what comes into awareness, you must pass through periods of intense feelings such as anger, fear, or grief. These feelings themselves require acceptance. Acceptance means seeing things exactly as they are rather than as you think they are or as you think they should be. Remember, things can only change in the present moment. You have to see things as they are and yourself as you are–truly–in this moment if you wish to change, heal, or transform yourself or your life. Acceptance includes softening and opening to what is here. The sense of struggle is released. By ceasing to deny and to fight with the way things are now, you can find yourself with more energy to heal and to transform what is here. Acceptance does not mean you have to like everything or that you have to take a passive attitude. It does not mean you have to be satisfied with things as they are, or that you have to stop trying to change things for the better. As we are speaking of it here, acceptance simply means willingness to see things as they are, deeply, truthfully, and completely. This attitude sets the stage for acting in the most potent and healthy way in your life, no matter what is happening.

Over these past two weeks, I have recognized a familiar pattern within me. There are stages where I am very engaged in teaching, communicating and sharing….and then there are other stages where I go within to gather, refill and expand from the inside. I have been shifting into this latter stage over these last few weeks, hence my hiatus in writing last week.

As I reflect on this with clear acceptance, frustration has been present, along with that familiar feeling of needing to please or do what I said I was going to do. There have been moments where I have sat down to ‘make’ myself write something, and yet this mindful awareness comes in to remind me of what IS actually here. If I allow it or accept what is happening within me, I can see how this shift seems to be in alignment with the intention of winter, of going within. Maybe I am just doing what is natural for me at this point in the year? Who knows, but it IS here….

Honoring and enacting this attitude of acceptance, I am going to step away from making a weekly commitment to writing for the time being, and will return to a more regular pattern when my energy shifts back into that state of external expansion. I am grateful for each and every one of you, and wish you peace and ease in the coming winter season.

Heart opening practice: Appreciation

There was a NY Times article written by the Dalai Lama HERE on 11/4 where he positions our current state of fear and anxiety around an epidemic of not feeling needed. He suggests that we begin each day asking ourselves, ‘what can I do today to appreciate the gifts others offer me?’

When I first read this, I found myself a little surprised since I was expecting him to say something like, ‘what can I do today to be useful to others?’ I realized that ‘my version’ requires others to actually value what I have to offer in the first place, which is completely out of my control, so of course the question he offers comes first! If people don’t practice recognizing what someone else brings to the table, then that person won’t get the feedback of appreciation which leads to feeling needed or useful.

To be honest, a wave of relief came after this realization because I can completely 100% shift my attitude toward appreciating the acts of generosity or kindness offered to me each day. A peek into my head: You mean, I don’t have to MAKE someone see that who I am or what I do has value? I can just appreciate what you do, and if enough of us practice this, then we each benefit and ultimately feel needed and valued?  Deep down, I know I can’t control what others feel about me or my actions, but I can control my own response toward others and their actions. The pleaser in me relaxed as the spotlight went onto something I absolutely can do…yet it is a practice that is easily overlooked.

In honor of cultivating this practice of feeling appreciation toward others, I am offering a heart opening practice where you repeat the following phrases in formal meditation or throughout your day to increase your awareness of the opportunities to experience joy and appreciation.

May I learn to appreciate the happiness and joy I experience.

May the joy I experience continue and grow.

May I be filled with gratitude and non-attached appreciation.

For me, this practice turns my radar ON to noticing what actually IS in my life that I have to be joyful about. It allows me to recognize and practice acknowledging when someone does something kind, not only for me, but for another. It trains my brain to see the positive or the good in something or someone.

What we practice, we become. Let this practice of appreciative joy be of service to all beings.

Seven essential attitudes of mindfulness: #1 non-judging

There are seven attitudes that allow us to experience our lives mindfully: non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go (be). Let’s play with this first one today….

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, defines non-judging as this: “Mindfulness is compassionate, openhearted, choice-less awareness. It is cultivated by taking the position of an unbiased attentive witness to your own experience as it happens in the present moment. To do this requires that you begin to relate to the contents of experience, without judgment, as the present moment unfolds. The habit of categorizing and judging the experience locks you into patterns of reacting and repeating thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You may not even be aware of these patterns. Judging acts to separate you from the direct experience of each moment and from the unfolding reality of life. When you practice mindfulness, it is important to recognize the judging quality of mind and identify the judgmental thinking as it arises. It is equally important not to judge the judging! Simply note that judging is present.

I thought it might be kind of interesting to offer up this attitude for practicing this week with all that is happening politically. With the extensive media coverage out there, it’s especially easy to judge everyone right now, isn’t it?! BUT what happens to YOU when this felt sense of judgment surges through your body? What does your heart rate do? Your blood pressure? Your attitude? Your thoughts? Your ability to make calm, thoughtful decisions?

When I experience judging, it feels like dis-stress to me (certainly not eu-stress). During these times, we are spending a higher percentage of time in the fight/flight/freeze state, which is meant to be a short-term exertion or burst to get us away from the tiger, to fight it or hide from it. If we remain in this state for too long, it makes us just plain ol’ stupid (yep, had to say it). When our amygdala is activated during dis-stress, we lose access to the prefrontal cortex, which is the executive function portion of our brain that separates us from animals and assists us in making thoughtful decisions.

Check in with that and see if it resonates….Are you more likely to cut someone off in traffic while experiencing this ‘justified’ judgment? Are you going to miss the opportunity to hold the door open for a random stranger at the bank? Are you going to be more impatient with that clerk at the grocery who is doing the best she can?

So….if we use our mindfulness practice to recognize what is actually happening in this moment without judgment:

  1. I am experiencing a trigger and X,Y,Z is present in my body, mind, emotions.
  2. A surge of hormones is flowing through my body causing me to do X,Y,Z in reaction.

This moment of mindful awareness might create some distance from the trigger or lessen the emotional tone within your body. In mindfulness, we call this noting or naming what is. Researchers found that this action alone causes a physiological shift and takes us out of the stress response — it deactivates the amygdala and allows access to the prefrontal cortex.

So, while we are waiting for this election to be resolved, and even after that, it might be an interesting experiment to just notice when you begin to judge, pay attention to how it feels in your body/mind/emotions, and then watch how you react to others in your path. Be the witness to yourself in this dis-stressing state. No judgment, just observation…and from that place of awareness, consciously choose to stay there or not.

For those who wish to read more on my website about all seven attitudes, click HERE.

 

Relax into what you are doing

For the past few days, I have had a toothache since I bit down on my back tooth and broke off a piece. I have become very aware of the muscles that are holding my jaw still for a sense of protection, and even those that radiate down my neck and into my shoulder. Nothing debilitating…just a keen awareness.

This morning, as I was mixing some cupcake batter for a mere three minutes, this same sort of awareness arose. I felt this tension in my jaw and neck again, moving down into my shoulder. As I was experiencing this, I started to see where else I was unintentionally holding. I realized I was gripping the mixer like I was holding onto someone’s hand for dear life, my elbow was way up in the air like a chicken wing, and my teeth were clinching together. I was doing all of this ‘extra work’ during a basic kitchen task?!?!

One of the lessons I have learned along the way is that true physical strength is having the ability to use it when you need it, and to let it go when you don’t. Applying this belief, I would consider this extra work or holding during my mixing task a waste of energy…a low grade draining of my strength.

As I remembered this lesson during these three minutes of mixing, I found myself playing with relaxing these areas just enough so that I could still hold the mixer and maintain postural form and function. Instantly I felt like I was floating in water or space. I felt flow and ease return to my body as I performed this task without effort, in fact, I returned to a state of mind I felt in a sun-filled room doing qi gong with a former teacher of mine. I felt this radiate all throughout my body, even up to my jaw, ah.

So this week’s blog is a simple reminder to pay attention to where you might be wasting physical energy by unconsciously holding or tightening where it’s not necessary. Yes, thankfully we can turn it on when we need to pick something up or exert some other sort of force, so save it for those moments…but probably not this one.

Step out of your box

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experience riding up Mt. Lemmon. Due to my timing parameters that day, I had an hour set aside to ride UP, and boy was that a hard stretch of steady climbing! My body was definitely out of its comfort zone. I was asking my mental, cardiovascular, and muscular systems to adapt and change to accommodate this new challenge. An unexpected gift came during the next week of riding, running and hiking where everything felt distinctly easier! It’s not that the activities were easier, but my body and mind adapted to the Mt. Lemmon experience and gave me a new perspective in future experiences.

This reminds me to continue to nudge the edges of my comfort zones physically, mentally and emotionally. As I do this, I grow and experience my life in new ways. For me, that’s what life is all about….to be alive, present, and experience each day fully. For you skeptics out there, I am not saying I am able to do this every day, but when I do, I feel a surge of life, ah! There is a beautiful balance between living life and being alive versus just going through the motions.

Where have you settled in your life? Where could you step out of your box and into an unknown? It doesn’t have to be HUGE, just something new or different. Maybe it’s taking a different route to a place you often go? Or maybe it’s riding your bike or walking there instead?  No matter what you do that is different — pause and note how it feels or felt. Find something that made the experience ‘worth it.’ Maybe you got excited because you saw a new restaurant you want to try? Maybe you felt strong riding your bike to/from the destination and it made you want to feel that way more in your life?

One of the most important things to do with new experiences is to acknowledge the gift in it, no matter how small. Revel in it. The minute we minimize it, we dissuade ourselves from doing new things in the future. We put limits on ourselves unintentionally. Imagine if you responded with, ‘Well, I just got stuck in more traffic going that route.’ Yes, this may happen, but this interpretation trains your brain to find what is wrong rather than what is positive and new. Maybe while you were waiting in traffic, you could ALSO have noticed a family walking home together from school smiling and having fun?? Maybe it reminds you of an experience you had as a child and it makes you smile too?

So this week, give it a try. Dip your toe in the deep end, note what happens, and then describe it to a friend or someone willing to listen, write about it, or reply to this blog and tell me about it!

Eyes ahead….

In mindfulness practice, we are reminded or encouraged to stay in this moment; however, on a bike, one of the mantras is ‘eyes up’ or ‘eyes ahead.’ You want to look where you want to go, not where you are. If you do, you’ll run into that jagged rock you are staring at, or go right into that hole that you are trying to avoid. It’s wild to experience it….you focus on it, you try so hard to not go into it, and over and over – you still do! It is frustratingly comical. So, once you choose to practice looking where you want to go, then the obstacle becomes almost a thing of the past. You are going over it or through it, but it’s really nothing.

How do I translate this lesson into daily life? Sometimes we get fixated on what we are doing so much so that we almost strangle the intention or the goal. I have found that for me, I don’t always stay in line with my goal 100%, but for the most part, I am keeping my eyes on the place I wish to be/go, so eventually (sometimes quicker than others), I get there. It may not be the way I thought it would be or as fast as I thought it should be, but I do get there, as long as I remember to keep my eyes up.

This is certainly a more forgiving path. It allows for detours and pit stops, so it’s richer and full of surprises! This strategy is not going to align with your SMART goal setting 101 practice, nor is it appropriate for all things, but for me, this is a gentler strategy for life. It keeps me out of striving or pushing, and into flowing or allowing. It reminds me that there is more to life than arriving at an end goal because ultimately, if you follow this strategy, there needs to be another goal to feel fulfilled after that one is attained…..which is an endless and exhausting search for meaning where there is none.

Where in your life could you choose to take the more scenic route? Where could you let go of the reigns and allow yourself to wander a bit…still keeping your eyes up, but letting yourself go where the trail takes you?

The calm within the storm

Yesterday I decided to begin the climb up Mt. Lemmon on my road bike. For those of you who are not from Tucson, this is a L-O-N-G 28 mile climb up to about 9,000 feet elevation with some brief breaks and descents, but mostly up. I was mindfully aware that given my current fitness level and brief time in Tucson, 28 miles of suffering uphill was not going to happen that day, but I had set aside one hour to climb and see how far I could get.

As I was doing my best to maintain form, breathe and get into the rhythm of climbing, I noticed how unbelievably peaceful and quiet it was around me. Yes, there was the occasional car whooshing by, but even though my heart beat was racing and my breathing was labored, there was a sense of stillness surrounding me. I observed the variety of cactus, rocks, hawks, lizards, and the amazing views of Tucson all from my bike moving slow and steady.

This awareness brought a smile to my face and an ‘ok-ness’ that whatever I was able to do that day was enough, and if anything, it was magical. I felt at peace within this challenging moment — no judgment, no comparison, no thinking or planning. This was the beautiful, and not so subtle, gift mindfulness gave me that day.

I am curious….what is the gift mindful awareness is offering you in this moment, and in this moment, and in this moment?