books + reading · meditation · mindfulness

#10%Happier #mind #soul #takeaways

I just finished re10-percent-happierading a nonfiction book.  This is a rare occurrence for me.

It’s called 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story.  It’s kind of a memoir-slash-self-help-book by journalist Dan Harris, and it’s about his journey through the self-help world, which ultimately ends with his discovering the power of meditation.

love this book.  It’s inspiring me to take up a daily meditation practice, which I’ve done before but have never been able to maintain for too long.

Here are my takeaways from 10% Happier:

Understand that ‘it is what it is’ – and then do what you need to do next.  

A lot of Harris’s writing is about his struggle to balance meditation with the ambition and productivity associated with everyday life.  He writes about how meditation is about acknowledging feelings and accepting thoughts as they are.  But then he writes about doing what needs to be done next.

You can accept where you are, and then you can do the next right thing; acceptance and action are not contradictory.

Learn to respond, not react.

Harris writes: What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.” In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.

As my work week creeps on, I find myself struggling to respond rather than react.  I do a pretty good job with it on Mondays; I struggle a LOT on Fridays.

A really awesome definition of mindfulness.

I’ve read and written a lot about mindfulness, but Harris’s book gave the best and easiest to understand definition of mindfulness I’ve ever heard.

He writes that mindfulness is like looking at your thoughts from behind a waterfall.  Picture the mind like a waterfall: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall. 

So, if I am practicing mindfulness, I can watch my thoughts and my feelings flow by without becoming swept away by them.

Simple – but challenging.

-Do one thing at a time.12509431_1011472385587227_7921394802468337843_n

Harris writes: [Janice Marturano – founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership – recommended something radical: do only one thing at a time. When you’re on the phone, be on the phone. When you’re in a meeting, be there. Set aside an hour to check your email, and then shut off your computer monitor and focus on the task at hand.

Another tip: take short mindfulness breaks throughout the day. [Marturano] called them “purposeful pauses.” So, for example, instead of fidgeting or tapping your fingers while your computer boots up, try to watch your breath for a few minutes. When driving, turn off the radio and feel your hands on the wheel. Or when walking between meetings, leave your phone in your pocket and just notice the sensations of your legs moving. 

“If I’m a corporate samurai,” I said, “I’d be a little worried about taking all these pauses that you recommend because I’d be thinking, ‘Well, my rivals aren’t pausing. They’re working all the time.’”

“Yeah, but that assumes that those pauses aren’t helping you. Those pauses are the ways to make you a more clear thinker and for you to be more focused on what’s important.”

I love all of this.

-Ask yourself if your thoughts are useful.

It’s all about being in the present moment – right?  However, Harris poses the question: What about when you need to think about the future?  You’re considering your career – or you’re planning how to be on time for your flight home to Maryland.

One of Harris’s meditation mentors, Joseph Goldstein (well-known teacher and author, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society), answers this question.  His response was (not verbatim) yes, wonderful, think about your flight.  But when you’re running through your route to the airport for the seventeenth time, be mindful of this and consider if this thought is useful.

This reminds me of one of my rules for things to say out loud: Ask yourself – is it kind?  Is it helpful?  Is it true?  

It also is a pretty great method for measuring when you’re thinking in a healthy, productive way, and when you’re thinking in an unhealthy and unproductive way.  I can just ask myself – is this useful?

Observe The Ten Pillars of Cutthroat Zen.

In the final chapter of 10% Happier, Harris writes a list of recommendations for using meditation and mindfulness principles in everyday life and the workplace.  I put quotes for the book in parentheses where I thought explanation was needed

1. Don’t be a Jerk.

2. (And/But …) When Necessary, Hide the Zen.  (“Sometimes you need to compete aggressively…it’s possible to do this calmly and without making the whole thing overly personal.”)

3. Meditate.  (“Meditation is the superpower that makes all the other precepts possible.”)

4. The Price of Security is Insecurity — Until It’s Not Useful.  (“Mindfulness proved a great mental thresher for separating wheat from chaff, for figuring out when my worrying was worthwhile and when it was pointless. Vigilance, diligence, the setting of audacious goals— these are all the good parts of ‘insecurity.'”)

5. Equanimity is Not the Enemy of Creativity.

6. Don’t Force It.  (“It’s hard to open a jar when every muscle in your arm is tense.”)

7. Humility Prevents Humiliation.

8. Go Easy with the Internal Cattle Prod.  (You can get a lot further when you practice kindness and self-compassion than when you are beating yourself up all the time.)

9. Nonattachment to Results.  (This is HUGE!  Work hard – but understand that the results won’t always go your way, and that letting go of your attachment to outcomes makes life so much happier.)

10. What Matters Most?  (Listen to your inner voice.  It does not lie.)


books + reading · meditation · mindfulness

#mind #soul

I’ve been reading How To Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh – a tiny, beautiful book of meditations on mindfulness.  (One of my Powell’s purchases!)41IZUZgUAmL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

There have been a lot of amazing passages so far.  Like this one: We human beings have lost confidence in the body just knowing what to do. If we have time alone with ourselves, we panic and try to do many different things. Mindful breathing helps us to relearn the art of resting. Mindful breathing is like a loving parent cradling a baby, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you; just rest.’

My favorite takeaway so far from How To Relax is this – my daily life, conducted with mindfulness, is a gift I give myself.  I can’t remember if this is a passage I read in the book or a realization I had while reading it; probably the former.

I haven’t been giving myself a daily gift of life conducted in mindfulness lately.  My mind has been crowded and scattered – all over the place.


I am hoping to go to a training on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction sometime in the near future.  I want to learn more about mindfulness as a psychological strategy and an academic concept.

But with the day-to-day of mindfulness – I know exactly what I need to do.  I need to focus on the present moment.  The challenge is actually doing it!

I can get very caught up in my head; it’s a big struggle for me to keep myself in the present moment.  I get stuck in the past or in the future rather than staying in the peacefulness of the now.

spiritual fair

Be more present – this was one of my resolutions for 2016.  And I think I’m doing okay with it – good, but not great.  One of my defaults when I’m stressed or overwhelmed is to rely on background noise – usually TV or a podcast – and I have been doing somewhat better with this habit o’ mine.

I find that when I’m doing something that forces me into the present moment – my evening walks with Tee, most of my work day, a doctor’s appointment – I can stay there and exist there happily.  However, when I have the option to multi-task, I usually take it.  (Right now, the fifth season of The Office is playing in the background as I type.)

My quest for mindfulness is ever-present.  Someday (hopefully!) I will be, too.


#heart #mind #unmindfulness

I’m not having a very mindful fortnight.  mindfulness

For the past few weeks, my mind has been all over the place.  I’ve been catching up on The Newsroom so I can watch the third season, which I have on loan from the library.  I discovered two new games on my phone – Trivia Crack and 1010.  (They are awesome and amazing and addictive and I highly recommend NEVER downloading them; I’ve already made myself delete them.)  I’ve also been very distracted and caught up in my head about the adoption wait.

However, there have been some efforts at balance: a reunion with my college friends in New York (#heart) and alternating between reading Rising Strong and The Story Of The Lost Child (#mind).  And there’s more awesomeness to come – an evening with Brene Brown tonight (!!!) and some quality family time this weekend.

Writing this is helping me to realize that my #soul nourishment is lacking – and that some #soul food will likely help me get to a more mindful place.         


The Meditative Power Of Repetitive Tasks #body #soul

One of my AmeriCorp*NCCC projects was trail-building in a natural reserve in Ohio.  Our work days were long and physically demanding.  We worked from eight to ten hours each day, hacking and digging and smoothing and building.

Then, at nighttime, I would dream for eight hours about using pulaskis and pick-axes and rakes.  I’d wake up in the morning so annoyed at my subconscious.  I mean, I was working really hard ALL DAY LONG – shouldn’t my dreams be a time when I could sit back and relax?garden+2

I thought of this today because last night I dreamed about harvesting husk cherries, which is what I did for three hours on Saturday afternoon.  Even when I’m not asleep, I keep catching my mind drifting – I imagine myself scooping up a handful of husk cherries off the ground, popping them out of their husks to make sure they’re ripe and unblemished, and dropping them into my bucket.  Over and over, and over again.

While I laugh about having my dreams full of monotonous physical tasks, I really find this kind of work incredibly rewarding and enriching.  I love farming with Tee.  It’s fun to complete a task alongside Tee or a friend, but I also love just working on a task by myself.  Sometimes I listen to a podcast or an audiobook while I work, or sometimes (like yesterday, when my phone died) I work in silence.  A task like that – repetitive, mindless – helps me to clear my mind and to calm my body.  It can be a meditative ritual for me.  It’s a naturally mindful experience – your mind is pulled into the present moment by the task at hand.   aqm

I’ve talked to friends who’ve tried meditating and have found it difficult to sit still for extended periods or to quiet their mind; the Meditative Power of Repetitive Tasks seems like a good response to that kind of struggle.  You’re doing something that needs to get done – your mind (at least, part of it) is engaged in the task at hand – and repeating the same task over and over allows you to obtain a quiet, calm mind.  Which, if your mind is as naturally bouncy and wild and hectic as mine is, is something to strive for.

mindfulness · self-care

#MomentsOfFlow #heartsoulmindbody

Sometimes I’ll be at the farmers market, helping a customer or re-stocking our table of veggies, and I’ll have a Moment.

These Moments are difficult to describe, but I’m going to give it a try.

The Moment will feel incredibly peaceful and serene.  I’ll get a feeling that a sense of peace and serenity is washing over me.  I’ll feel like at that moment, I am exactly where I am meant to be and I’m doing exactly what I am imagemeant to be doing.

I love these moments.  I tend to move very slowly and carefully when I am having one of these moments; I don’t want to scare it away.  I also tend to not talk about these moments, especially while I’m in the midst of one, for the same reason.  I try to be as still as I can, within whatever I am doing at that moment, and just allow the moment to continue.

Lately I notice these moments frequently during the farmers market, but I have them at other times, too.  Sometimes I’ll have a Moment when I’m just at home, reading or relaxing or cleaning up the house.  Sometimes I’ll have a Moment when I’m at work, in the middle of a therapy session with a child.

I’ve read a little bit about Flow.  In Mihal Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he describes flow as ” a state of concentration or complete absorpalways-live-in-the-moment-sourcetion with the activity at hand and the situation.”  He talks a lot about people at their professions being in flow – like an artist who is “in the groove” or a surgeon being “in the zone.”  When people are in Flow, they’re totally immersed in what they’re doing.

What Csikszentmihalyi describes resonates with me, which is why I sometimes refer to my moments as Moments Of Flow.  I think that these Moments Of Flow are indicators that I am living in the moment and being mindful.  I also think that these Moments usually occur when my heart, soul, mind, and body feel nourished and strong.  Which is another motivation to keep myself balanced – so I can have more and more Moments Of Flow!


#mindfulness #heart #soul #mind

51sL7gGaQFL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_My day job, as previously mentioned, is as a school-based therapist at a school for kids with special needs.

In addition to meeting with kids for individual therapy, I run between three and five group therapy sessions each week.  We – by which I mean myself and the other school social workers on my team – like to pick a theme for each month month of the year.  I think this helps us to be focused and intentional in our work; group therapy with kids is very different from group therapy with adults, which is generally (though not always) a little more open.

This month, during our school’s summer session, we are talking about mindfulness; mindfulness is the art of focusing one’s attention on the present moment in an intentional and accepting way.  For our first week of groups, we read a wonderful children’s book – Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda – to help the students understand what mindfulness is and how it can be a happiness booster.

Talking about mindfulness with my students helps me to be mindful, too.  I have a lot of not-mindful tendencies.  Playing on my phone.  Doing two things at once.  Angsting about the future.  I am hoping that this month of focusing on mindfulness with my clients will help me to be more mindful myself.