One of my 2020 Happiness Project tasks for January (my month focused on health and longevity) was to meditate every day. And it is actually going well!
I’ve been an aspiring and occasional meditator for years. I have often felt frustrated by my inability to make it a daily habit. Monthly, for sure. Weekly, I’ve had some success with sticking to it. Daily? Pretty much never. And I’m not meditating daily now, either. But since 2020 started, I’ve meditated 10 times. That’s approximately every other day, and that is success.
One of the tools that’s been helping me is the Headspace app. I’ve used it previously, and enjoyed it, but that was several years ago. Then, in December 2019, I found out that Headspace is free for educators. I’m a school social worker, so I was able to sign up for the full version of Headspace for free. Every time I sit down to meditate, I click on the next guided meditation in the app. The meditations were initially 3 to 5 minutes, and now I’ve worked my way up to 10 to 15 minutes. To be honest, that jump has been hard. There’s a big difference between sitting to meditate for 3 minutes and 10 minutes, and it’s been a challenge. But I’m working through it. I typically meditate in the mornings, and I’m enjoying it a lot.
Overall, my health and longevity goals are going okay. I’ve been meditating, and I’ve been exercising. Those two resolutions have been going great. But I’ve been having trouble keeping some of my other resolutions. It’s about halfway through the month as I write this, so I’m going to make an effort to either change up my resolutions or re-commit to making these ones happen.
But the meditating? I am loving it, and I’m proud of myself for keeping that commitment. Onward.
I’ve been learning about mindfulness for years, and yet I still feel like a beginner.
These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how little time I have when I’m just daydreaming and letting my thoughts wander. In the age of iPhones and Netflix, at any moment, I can have a TV show or a podcast playing while I do something else. And I do that a LOT. I rarely bring my full, mindful attention to the task at hand. And I am definitely less mindful when I’m feeling stressed or have a lot going on
In his work, the writer Cal Newport (author of Digital Minimalism and Deep Work) defines solitude as time when no input is being experienced – so, time when you’re not reading, listening to a podcast, watching television, but are simply allowing your brain to either rest or to process all the other input you’ve had recently.
If that’s what solitude is, I currently have very little of it in my everyday life. I am constantly multi-tasking, and I often am listening to a podcast or a TV show while completing other tasks. There are worse habits, of course, and I don’t want to beat myself up for having a very human 21st century struggle. But also –
I don’t want to waste my time.
Since becoming a parent, I am very aware of my mortality. I’m not sure what it is exactly about having kids that causes this shift, but I know I’m not the only parent who has experienced it. The time to do everything I want to do in my life is not limitless. And the time I spend listening to podcasts and watching TV is time I could be thinking about blogging or fiction writing. I read once that Toni Morrison used to scribble down paragraphs while she was in traffic, because she was a working mother with limited time to write. I want to be THAT kind of writer – the kind who uses every available moment.
And I know that I lose a lot of valuable time when I’m constantly playing on my phone or re-watching Jane The Virgin.
So, mindfulness. I sometimes think it’s the secret to achieving ever single one of my dreams and goals. And while I have always struggled to form and keep this habit, I’ve been doing two things well lately:
I’m using the Headspace app to refresh my mindfulness skills and meditate. I’ve completed a three minute meditation three days in a row. It’s only three days, but it’s something!
I’ve been putting my phone away – usually in another room, charging – when I get home from work. It hasn’t been perfect, and sometimes I’m tempted to just go add something to my grocery list or see if I have any texts. But I’ve been doing this pretty consistently, and it’s making my time at home with my family SO much better.
There are so many goals that I have that mindfulness will help – cutting back on caffeine, writing a novel, eating healthier. I could be wrong, but I think mindfulness is the answer. And it’s a great time of year to focus on being more present – the time of year that is all about family and celebrating. Wish me luck!
Sometimes I get what Brené Brown would call a vulnerability hangover. I have one of those today. It’s an awful feeling of regret and self-consciousness that I get after I truly open up and am honest in front of other people.
I’m an introvert, and in general, I am an overthinker who is pretty cautious about what I say to others. But sometimes, when the stakes are high, my guard goes down and I speak my truth. I just lay it out on the table, without censoring.
Then, anytime from a few minutes later to a few hours later, I start to feel stressed and panicky. I worry that I said the wrong thing. I can feel my skin crawling because of my discomfort. This was my experience all night long this week, during the time when I was hoping to be sleeping.
Last night, when I couldn’t sleep yet again, I started to practice something I describe as aggressive mindfulness. To be honest, mindfulness hasn’t really been on my agenda this month. My daily morning and evening routines have been pretty off, and I’ve had so much on my mind that it’s been challenging to bring myself fully into the present moment.
But last night, when I couldn’t sleep, and my mind would wander – I would talk to myself sort of sharply and say, We are NOT thinking about that now; we’re sleeping. It worked – sort of, because I had to repeat this about 975 times.
It took a little while to realize that what I was practicing was an aggressive kind of mindfulness practice. But it totally was. I strive to utilize mindfulness in my daily life, and I often succeed – but I am also plagued by regrets about things I’ve said or done and anxieties related to the future, and those thoughts and feelings all stem from my struggle to stay in the present moment. I often forget that it’s my goal to stay in the present moment. Which is silly, because being fully present would help me to feel happier, more confident, and stronger in my day-to-day life.
But, that’s how self-care and self-improvement work for me. I am great at utilizing tools when things are really, really bad – but on a regular day, I forget all about it. So this week, when I really needed to pull myself away from regretful thoughts and into the present moment, I did it over and over again. But on a regular basis, I completely forget that practicing mindfulness is an important goal I have for myself.
This month, with work stress and a busy packing/moving schedule, I think utilizing aggressive mindfulness will be really valuable for me. But, once my vulnerability hangover is over, I really hope that I’m able to remember that staying in the present moment isn’t a strategy that’s only available to me in crisis. It’s a superpower that’s accessible every single day of my life, if I can only remember to use it
I’ve been reading this wonderful book, The Mindful Kind, for the last few months. It is delightful, and it really has me thinking about how to incorporate mindfulness into my life on a daily basis, as well as how to cultivate a regular mindfulness practice.
It’s always been a challenge for me to maintain a regular mindfulness practice. (For me, this would be 5 to 15 minutes of mindful breathing or mindfulness meditation when I wake up in the morning.) In fact, figuring out a way to get back into a regular meditation/mindfulness practice is one of the things on my to-do list for after Jonas starts sleeping through the night!
The author of The Mindful Kind is an Australian writer named Rachael Kable and she is just delightful. I’ve been listening to her podcast (which goes by the same name as the book) on and off for years, and she likes to explore how to utilize mindfulness in lots of different circumstances. For example, she writes about using mindfulness for commuting, for dealing with stress, and for effective communication with friends and family. I’ve spent time over the past few months perusing her website as well, which has lots of tips and tricks for incorporating mindfulness into your life. (You can learn all about Rachael Kable and her work here!)
My biggest takeaways from The Mindful Kind were things I already knew – I want to be mindful and intentional about my parenting, my social media use, pretty much about everything I do! For that reason, I wasn’t sure if I’d be that into this book; I thought it might be more of the same old stuff I’ve read in other mindfulness books. But I love Kable’s writing and her way of thinking about the challenges of everyday life and ways mindfulness can help us to thrive.
Tamara, Edgar, Jonas, and I spent four glorious days at the beach with family at the end of June.
One of my favorite things about a vacation at the beach is the way I constantly lose track of time. We spend the morning swimming and wading and building sandcastles, and then someone ask what time it is. They ask it casually, because it really doesn’t matter at all. And when they ask for the time, I realize that I have been so relaxed and caught up in the moment so I could not guess the time accurately if my life depended on it.
I love it when I lose track of time. For me, it’s a sign that I am fully present in the moment, and being present is something I am constantly trying to improve. It’s easier to be present on vacation, because you’re not distracted by the responsibilities of work or a household. And I noticed that for me, it is DOUBLY easy to be present at the beach, because of one unintentional great choice that I make the majority of the time when I’m going to the beach: I leave my phone behind.
It makes such a difference when my phone is not within my reach. On our first full day at the beach, we spent our morning enjoying the sunshine and the waves. At one point, I thought that I’d like to take a picture of Edgar and Jonas playing together in the waves. I realized then that I had not brought my phone down to the beach with me; it was in our bedroom at the beach house. I would love to say that I did this on purpose, so that I could enhance my mindfulness practice, but I didn’t. I left the phone up at the house because a) I don’t trust myself to have my phone in my pocket or my bag when there’s lots of sand and water being strewn about, and b) Vacation Kerriann forgot that phones are things we sometimes want close by so that we can take photos, send witty texts, or scroll mindlessly.
I love Vacation Kerriann for that. That girl rocks.
I realized this summer that a beach vacation encourages mindfulness and presence in a way that some other kinds of vacations do not. When you’re at the beach, often your agenda is simply this: Wake up. Whenever you feel like it, stroll down to the beach to frolic. Whenever you’re hungry, eat something. When you’re tired, go to bed.
We’re home from the beach now (boo!), and Everyday Kerriann is in charge. She’s doing what she does – listening to podcasts and cleaning the kitchen while the boys play, losing her temper occasionally, unskilled multi-tasking.
Vacation Kerriann is watching her, though. VK is making sure that EK enjoys her kids and maintains the playful + peaceful vibe she strives for every single day.
Over the course of the past two weeks, our family has had two weird and costly incidents. Each incident was a silly mistake – the kind of thing an absent-minded professor might do – and they resulted in a banged-up car and a smashed cell phone. These were bummer incidents, of course, but we were able to laugh at the funny parts of the stories and not stress too much over what happened.
These two things happening in close succession did cause me to wonder about our family’s general status. Like, are we so exhausted that we’re not functioning correctly? Are we trying to do too much? Are certain kinds of activity overstimulating for all of us, to the point that we really need to focus on slowing down and being present to avoid costly damage and general life headaches?
Then today, I went to the doctor. I never, ever go to the doctor. I have sort of a phobia, but it’s not about germs or sickness. My phobia is this: I am always worried that I’ll go to the doctor and find out that there’s nothing wrong with me. Then I’ll feel foolish, like I am imagining illnesses in my head. It is DEFINITELY a souvenir of my childhood and will be dealt with in a therapy session someday, I’m sure.
But I got three bad sore throats in a row, and I haven’t had a sore throat in years. When you google “persistent sore throat,” the internet throws you a whole bunch of websites talking about throat cancer. And then two days ago, I felt a decent-sized lump in my throat. (NOT the metaphorical kind that’s related to nervousness! The internet had trouble understanding that the lump I was googling was not caused by anxiety.) The lump freaked me out, even though Tamara assured me it was probably swollen lymph nodes related to some kind of infection. So I made a doctor’s appointment, and it turns out that I actually have strep throat, and probably have had it for several weeks.
This blew my mind a little. I was relieved that I hadn’t been imagining my illness, and I was relieved that I most likely don’t have throat cancer. But I couldn’t believe that I had strep and didn’t realize it. And that thought brought me back to reflecting on our two absent-minded accidents, and to wondering: Are we doing too much right now? Are we too busy to keep ourselves healthy, or even to notice when we are not healthy?
The answer is definitely yes. The farm is getting busier, which is the main thing. And the day-to-day life tasks involved with being adults and running a family – they just seem insurmountable at times, especially with two full-time working parents.
I am constantly making resolutions about slowing down and being present. I don’t know what else I can do to actually make this life change! All I can think of are these strategies:
a) Turn it over. In recovery, we talk a lot about letting go of things that seem to be unmanageable or out of your control. I am wondering if slowing down is one of those things that I need to turn over to the magic of the universe and just stop worrying about. I mean, I resolve on at least a monthly basis (if not weekly or daily!) to slow down, and I still catch myself rushing from place to place. So I don’t think another resolution will help.
This is me, turning it over. I’d like to slow down; it seems impossible. Your move, Universe.
b) Catch up. I feel like I have some pretty good systems in place for staying organized and accomplishing tasks, but it also feels like we’re all always ten steps behind. I don’t want my whole summer to be swallowed up by adulting, but I do think summertime is a good chance for me to catch up.
If we ARE getting cosmic messages, it’s a good time for it. (For me! Tamara can’t slow down because farming is relentless.) It’s summertime baby! Slow and steady equals a relaxing and refreshing summer.
Once again, I am thinking about the need to slow down and do one thing at a time.
Every few months, I think about slowing things down. It’s on my mind this week because I’m reading a wonderful book called The Mindful Kind by Rachael Kable, an author who hosts a podcast of the same name. I’m enjoying this book so much. And when I read about mindfulness, it reminds me of my extremely unmindful tendencies. I have a tendency to multitask, to have a podcast or a TV show on as background noise. I have a tendency to get caught up in the whirlwind of other people’s schedules and emotions, even when I’ve set an intention myself to slow down and do one thing at a time, fully.
I looked through old blog posts and I found one from 2015 called Introducing Mantra Monday. (SPOILER ALERT: I don’t think I ever wrote about Mantra Monday again!) The mantra I chose for that day was do one thing at a time, fully.
Sigh. So simple. So challenging.
My phone is a big barrier to this – always there to pick up, check a text, write an e-mail, distract me from the task at hand. Just technology in general makes it difficult! At work the other day, I started to write a note, then got an e-mail and drafted a reply, then went back to edit something in a treatment plan, and suddenly was planning a group I’m running on Thursday.
Other than my phone and technology, I would say that the biggest barriers to doing one thing at a time are my tendency to stress and overthink; my habit of having background noise; and my talent at multitasking.
The background noise thing is tricky. If I’m about to do something I don’t want to do, like clean the bathroom or wash dishes, I automatically reach for the iPad to put on a podcast or a TV show for the background. This obviously interferes with my ability to do those jobs mindfully. But it even becomes a problem with things I do want to do – like writing. Sometimes I will put a TV show on in the background while I’m writing – and I love to write!
Rachael Kable wrote about this in The Mindful Kind. She talks about how we sometimes practice self-care but do it mindlessly – like, taking a bath while watching a TV show, so that the bath is not a fully mindful and relaxing activity. I totally related to that. Sometimes I even put a TV show on in the background while I’m spending time with my kids, which is the time in my life when I want to be the most mindful, the most present! It’s a lifelong habit, and it’s hard to change it.
And then – my tendency to stress and overthink. If I am not careful, my sensitivity to other people and my stress level can combine and make it so that I am incapable of focusing on one thing at a time. My brain is racing to figure out how to respond, what action to take – or I reach for something distracting or numbing to avoid the painful feelings associated with overthinking and stress.
Finally – the multitasking. Which is sort of a talent and sort of a curse! I noticed it this morning; I was melting butter for our pancake breakfast, and I started to change out of my running clothes while I waited for the butter to melt. WHY? The butter was only going to take 30 seconds! At some point in my life, I started doing little things like this, increasing my speed at getting things done but decreasing my ability to stay in the present moment. I’m so glad I noticed it today, because we can’t change what we don’t notice.
I’ve been a little sick this past week – a fever and a sore throat. Illness sometimes helps me to be more mindful. I have less energy to zoom from task to task; I can feel myself walking more slowly and giving myself time to think before I respond to questions from others. I set four alarms on my phone one day, with messages like slow down , speak slowly and softly, and stretch and breathe; the alarms were ineffective at reminding me to slow the pace of my day.
But my book, The Mindful Kind, is helping a lot. And my blogging helps.
Slow down. Do one thing at a time fully. Enjoy every moment.