Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Full Mind - Mindfulness

Practicing Mindfulness (or, a full mind needs to be emptied every once and a while)

According to an article in Hartford Business Review, “Mindfulness can Literally Change Your Brain,” mindfulness is a way to, “keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress. It can be integrated into one’s religious or spiritual life, or practiced as a form of secular mental training.  When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.”

With this in mind, what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is active and clear attention to the present – to the moment, suspending judgment. Mindfulness is awakening to the present experience, being fully conscious and engaged in the “task at hand.”  How is mindfulness practiced?

First, mindfulness does not mean you need to "om." Mindfulness can take only moments, and meditation may or may not be a part of that centering. In fact, meditation is a type of mindfulness. So - no worries if you only have four sips of coffee to get centered, you can do it. 

Mindfulness means fully focusing on the moment. Some natural ways of being mindful include coloring, playing with a child, putting together a puzzle, shaving, showering. At these times we are often focused and are able to allow our minds, in that intense focus, to be clear and purposeful, for a moment, to be present. This doesn’t mean one has to set aside a ten minute block of time to practice, but only have times where we are consciously aware of what we’re doing, rather than our minds being elsewhere. 

Some simple ways of practicing include:
1. When you wake, before rising, do a simple body scan or check in. Starting at your toes and moving up, focusing on one part of your body at a time. Tighten, the relax. What are you feeling? Any aches? Any tension, hesitation, apprehension, excitement? 
2. Sipping on a cup of tea, coffee, and feeling the heat, of the cup, the steam rising from the cup, the warmth as it hits the mouth, goes down the throat, fills the belly.
3. Use all of your senses when you eat. Look at the color of the grape you are about to eat. Smell the ripeness and freshness of it. Feel the grape pop in your mouth. Taste the juice as it rolls around your mouth. Hear your stomach saying thank you as you digest it.
4. Sitting straight in your chair, roll shoulders forward three times and back three times.
5. At intervals throughout the day take 3 deep Buddha or Belly breaths, breathing in through the nose, and deep into the belly, and out through the mouth. Feel that breath.
6. Place the tongue at the top of the mouth, which then unlocks the jaw, relaxing the jaw, and preventing grinding teeth and clenching the jaw.
7. Pay attention to your footsteps, how do they sound on the ground, how your feet are touching the ground, try placing your feet heel to toe or toe to heel, changing the gait.
8. Use telephone rings, apps, door knocks, as cues for relaxation.
9. During sleepless or restless sleeping times, our minds seem to revolve almost like a stuck record, going over and over something, with no movement forward. Jot concerns down, so they are out of your mind and on paper.
10. Take the alphabet, and choosing a topic (names, weather, emotions) find one for each letter.
11. Make friends with the night – get up, deep breath, walk, quietly, making each step an intentional step.
12. When feeling pain (physical, emotional, spiritual) doing a “check-in” or scan. Acknowledge the pain, see where it originates, where the pain is radiating, how your body is reacting to this. Ride with the pain, implementing any medical directions along with breathing exercises.
13. STOP – Stop, Take a breath (feel the presence of breath in your body. Notice the quality of your breathing. Observe thoughts, emotions, physical sensations present in your body. Proceed; step back into what you are doing with more awareness and presence. Remember – you have a choice in how you step back in. 
14. If feeling overwhelmed about the future, stop it! Imagine you have a flashlight in your hand. With that flashlight, shine it in front of you. How far in front of you can you see, before the light diminishes? Take a couple of steps forward, does your perspective go further now? Only worry about what can be seen. One day, one step, one moment at a time gives confidence in the now, which also brings hope rather than doubt, worry, confusion.

It is wise to take a break from our work, worries, stress, and come back to the present moment. Rather than staying in the state of distraction, consciously choose to come back to what’s happening in the here and now.

As part of my 2016 goals of Hygge and Glean, mindfulness is becoming a go-to during my days and nights. I'm loving the opportunity to center myself. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Survivor, and Why I Don't Like This Word -

If you had 3 minutes to introduce yourself, how would you do it? Would you identify yourself by your experiences - good and bad, your wounds - healed and unhealed. Would you introduce yourself by your titles - parent, wife, spouse, professor, chaplain? Would you explain yourself by the emotions you've carried with you through the years?

Only a small part of the cancer journey is about losing and finding my faith, losing and finding my identity, understanding what the most important things in my life are not things.

I don't like taking on "cancer survivor," as my identity, but yes, there is strength and validity in that title. But - I can talk about cancer, and I can support others who do the same - because I've been there. But - I am NOT a survivor. Cancer is not even a word I'd use in my elevator pitch. I will always claim my experiences, but I will not let them claim me, not divorce, job loss, religious persuasion, breakup, loss of friends, education, cancer. There you go -

Friday, February 5, 2016

Utah Snow -

Scott and I woke up to about 4 inches of fresh snow! Utah is very dependent on a good winter - meaning lots of snow - to make it through spring, summer, and fall. We beg and pray for snow. And the past few years have not been too prolific with snow. "We need the moisture," is something we say quite often, throughout all four seasons. So when it does snow, complaining about it is difficult, although we do.

This year we've had more snow than we have had in quite a few years. It's a blessing, as long as the snow stops by the end of the month, 'cause I'll be ready for sunshine and green!

Enjoy these pictures taken this morning -

Front yard

Back yard looking at Timp, northeast

Back yard from my deck, northeast

Scott with snowblower, looking southeast

From my front porch looking south

Snow flakes on the front porch

Looking south

Looking east

Back yard from my deck

Monday, February 1, 2016

Gleaning - and Caitlin Connolly -

As I wrote earlier this year, this is the year of Hygge - living simply, in the moment, with no concerns and no desire to complicate. As I've adjusted my "Om" word for this year, hygge just doesn't roll of my tongue like "Home," or "God is love, Love is God," or "Nourish." It doesn't breathe in and out with me. It doesn't calm me.

So I'm adjusting my sails. I love the art of Caitlin Connolly, and I set off to buy one of her pieces as my Christmas present to myself. I wasn't planning on this piece, but upon seeing it live, I changed my mind. For some reason. And I purchased "Finding Fruit."

I took the piece home, placed her in my writing room, and she fit right in. She fit with my glass grapes, my brown and blue and green and gold chairs. And more than that, she fit perfectly with a more than 100 year old hand-hewn oak framed mirror, with a cluster of fruits - apples and grapes, in a bowl. And the cluster is red. Framed, she's perfect, just perfect.

"Finding Fruit" became "Glean." And I've found my "Om" for this year. The "G" is a little hard, but the "lean" rolls, and it's gonna work.

Not just the word, as my "Om," but Glean is my perfect companion to Hygge. And this picture, yes, this epitomizes my intentions for the year. To take joy in what I have, to enjoy the earth, to know the best is within my reach. To take time to glean, not pick, but look deeply and detailingly for what is. To be more intent on my intentions. To be more content with my circumstances.

See the turquoise frame in the corner of the mirror? That's a beautifully stitched, my favorite shade of green, Serenity Prayer, each stitch lovingly and intentionally sewn by yt, Scott Weaver. 

What more could I ask for? 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Think Before Speaking - And Tow Trucks -

I was taught, a long time ago, to keep my mouth shut. Phrases such as, "You know what you meant," "Is it really worth the 'effort'," "Is it going to change things?" "What can you add to what's already been said," and others have kept me in the "measure twice, cut once," mode - "think twice, speak once." And moreso - "Don't hit "send" until you've walked away and returned," "Don't say something you can't take back," "He's just the messenger," are all thoughts that go through my mind when I'm about to "confront" someone. "You catch more flies with honey" was a favorite saying of my grandmother's, and it has stayed with me. Although - I've also learned that honesty is the best policy, and honest honey is better than corn syrup.

Today I had a touchy conversation with someone in my church congregation. I was frank, but empathetic and kind. She told me she wished she had more conversations such as ours. I said, "Oh, you mean frank and honest?" She replied, "Absolutely. How will I know if someone doesn't tell me?" And I walked away feeling fine, like we both had won - and winning wasn't even a part of the conversation. I guess - I walked away knowing that if, and when, we meet, I can look her in the eyes rather than ditching around a corner and hiding from her.

I'm not saying I'm in any way a Pollyanna or a Crucial Conversation'er, more a, "If I were the receiver, what would I like to know/hear," and I try to deliver that way.

Well - on our way from the Provo LDS Temple Tour, to an early birthday lunch, we parked in a parking spot that was a little unclear. And walking back to our car, 40 minutes later, we did not find our car. It had been towed! Instead of a car, we walked a block, saw this sign,

Oh shit! Expensive lunch. Scott called the company, and with no way to get to our car, we were told to call a taxi! Instead I called a friend, who quickly arrived to take us the .5 miles to our car. Where, we waited 30 minutes, in the cold, for the tow truck driver to arrive, unlock the gate, and after paying nearly $200, let us take our car.

And in this 45 minute period from not finding to finding, Scott was having a grand time thinking about all the horrible things he was going to say to the tow truck driver. And I talked him down, and he promised he wouldn't, but he did. And the hole got bigger and bigger, and unkind words were tossed between Scott and the driver, and I finally pulled Scott away. We got into the car, I questioned Scott, he got out to apologize, which didn't go too well, and we drove away.

And now Scott feels like shit, because he said what he shouldn't have - insulting the tow truck driver, me, and most importantly, himself.

Maybe there is something to the "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything," mantra. Because in the end, no one wins - and it wasn't even about winning to begin with.

PS - These tow truck guys were predators like I've never seen before. And the fees were stacked one on top of the other. And there was no generosity in travel to the tow truck yard, and I stood in front of a locked gate, in my skirt and tights, for a half hour before the guy came to unlock the gate. THAT was unnecessary. And you can bet I'll be pissing (amber honey) at the and very soon.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Gods and Fathers -

In a recent worship service, a young man, probably 23 years old, gave the sermon. He introduced it by saying that his father was a strict man, this father was probably "a little" abusive to his two sons, but "I'm sure I deserved it." The young man then announced that his sermon would be about God and justice. "I'm not going to talk about mercy or grace today, I want my emphasis to be on God's justice." I sat, politely, and tried to swallow what he was sharing. He spoke about our sins, God's punishments, and that if we sinned, we would be punished. Bottom line. And for 25 minutes I heard about God's infinite heavens (200 billion stars, 200 billion universes), and how God will punish us when we are/do wrong.

Oh goodness. I finally turned to Scott and said, "He's not talking about my God. My God is a merciful God, not a vengeful God."

My God works within the realms of the world He created. And in this world there are natural consequences for actions - just as in physics - for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I can handle this. You step into a road and a car comes zooming by - squash. You base jump off Angels Landing and your parachute doesn't open, oops. You sleep around and catch a crab or two - itchy itch. You cheat on a test (or not), and your teacher catches you - well, there's the price paid for your "mistake." But no - my God is not setting me up for failing. In the world I live in, divorce happens. Cancer happens. But it's not God's punishment! Bad things happen, and not at the expense of mercy. My cancer is not a product of a loving or vengeful God, but because I live on this earth where natural things happen - that are out of anyone's control. "How could there be a law save there was a punishment?" Because this natural world, this physical space is about consequences - natural consequences.

This caused me to think about where thoughts on Higher Powers come from. My parents are loving parents. I was spanked as a child, I remember my parents swearing once or twice, but hitting, locking up, laughing at a mistake, nope. Nada. Not even. My parents are still loving parents, who will do almost anything so that we are not punished for our sins. They show mercy.

As for my parenting - I spanked a time or two, I yelled a few times, yes. In fact, one of my more memorable parenting moments was yelling at the kids, "Damn it, you two are both in time out. Go to your rooms." And then I heard Jenna, with her Barbies, singing, "Damn it, damn it, damn it." Just as happy as could be. Choice and consequences! I do remember once telling Tyler, when he complained about not getting what he wanted on his sandwich, to return to the counter and ask for the proper order, that I wouldn't do this for him. And watching him walk up to the counter, sticking up for his order, was one of the hardest parenting moments I've had. Oh yeah, that and telling Jenna she needed to "stick it out," when she was in North Carolina for the summer, and homesick. But I didn't do either to hurt them, only to teach them. Mercy. Punishment? Opportunity to teach? Proverbs 3:11-12 teaches, "For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."

I've written about this theme of justice, mercy, grace, a few times, and I keep coming back to it. And I'm finding that every time I entertain the idea of a punishing Higher Power I want to walk away and never go back.

I'd like to talk with this guy in about twenty years. Or not.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shaken by Beauty -

Poet (and physician) William Carlos Williams has always touched my heart and my senses. His Red Wheelbarrow and This is Just to Say are two of his more well-known pieces. The imagery is stunning, and his pieces can be read on so many different levels. 
This is a relatively new piece, to me, and again, he does not fail: 
You lethargic, waiting upon me, 
waiting for the fire and I
attendant upon you, shaken by your beauty
Shaken by your beauty
On an occasional morning I sit by my window with my cup of tea, warm air coming from the heat vent, and I look out and up. Often the morning is just beginning, so I'm fortunate enough to see the clouds fade from Timpanogos, the sun lift up over the mountain. I see the sky turn from grey to blue, or to grey, I listen to the screech of foraging blue jays, and I am at peace.
I am struck by the beauty beaming in, the beauty of my world, this world, and the strength and fragility of life, of us, as we make our way in this space. 
I'm shaken. I try not to listen to, or read, the news until I have had this morning meditation. The anger, sadness, pain, frustration, fear, even cravings and irritations that I/we will experience today, that may have already happened between sleep and awakening - what do I do with the ugly, when such beauty surrounds me? I do my best to let them go. See, they will pop into my life as good and bad always does, but if I stay in the moment - in the moment I will see beauty. 
In the moment I see steam arising from my cup; I see a hot shower, a full meal, a gentle kiss, a closet full of clothes, comfortable shoes; my frailties, my failures, and the goodness that accompanies this. And if I focus on "what next," or emptiness, then woe is me for not seizing the moment to be shaken by the peace. 
This world is a morning poem, and I have but to see it to be shaken by its beauty, over and over. And I am grateful WCW had the words to express this.