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Pumpkins and Turkeys and Gifting, Oh, My! Eight Phrases to Bust Holiday Stress

As the weather gets cooler, my mind tends to race ahead to all the obligatory holiday expectations that are just around the corner.  Then I tell myself, “I am committed to a mindfulness meditation practice.  Don’t go there, stay here to reduce stress!”  That is all well and good, but sometimes I need a swift kick in the pants to remind myself!  Browsing through all the notes I have taken over ten years of “consultation” with my guru, here are some phrases that help me let go of expectations, relax and enjoy what is happening NOW!

  1. “Charity begins at home. Practice focus with dedication and devotion to self.” (This is my #1 life-saving mantra.  When I take care of me, I have more patience and energy for others.)
  2. “The longer you breathe, the longer you live.” (This one always gives me a good chuckle and is simple, but true.  When stressed, breathe deeply!)
  3. “Be mindful when looking for appreciation.” (Oh, right, that expectation thing!  Cook the turkey to cook the turkey, not because I am seeking praise and the title “Top Chef.”)
  4. Be attached to the effort, not the outcome.” (Get that turkey ready to the best of my ability and then….fuhgeddaboudit!!!)
  5. Work today for tomorrow, but don’t be IN tomorrow.” (Another version of #4. Trust me, I need as many versions of this one as I can get.)
  6. Sit outside of the pool.” (Caught in the holiday rush at the mall?  Houseguests and/or relatives bickering?  Observe the craziness instead of engaging in it or, at the very least and without judgment, observe myself participating!)
  7. “Self-restraint is a strength.” (When the family get-together becomes a bit tense, I don’t have to fix everything for everyone like I used to.  This is called “freedom”!)
  8. “Just see what happens.” (Simply by practicing awareness, things have a funny way of working out without my attempts to manipulate a solution.  That means less stress for me!)

So, go ahead, grab a phrase or two!  Tape ’em to your bathroom mirror, stick ’em on your steering wheel, place ’em in your meditation space or just memorize them and enjoy the awareness that a few “kick in the pants” holiday stress-busters might provide. ‘Tis always the season for a mindfulness meditation practice!

 –Kathy Babula

The Best of Intentions, Spiritually Speaking

My Experience with Meditation for Self-Discovery

For many years, I was happy to meditate the way I had been taught:  deep breathing followed by fifteen minutes of letting my thoughts come and go, morning and evening. (Note:  Sometimes I skipped because life happened and sometimes I skipped quite deliberately; just want to make sure you know I am human!) I became a calmer mom, wife and employee.  I noticed more self-compassion.  Those “annoying” people in my life seemed to improve their attitudes!  I understood the joy of being content.  However, after a while, I felt my satisfaction slipping away.  Anxiety over “my purpose,” days of preferring to be a hermit followed by days of loneliness, inability to meditate consistently, feeling either uber-fidgety or low and depressed while hating myself for it….

What was wrong with me?  I questioned spirituality itself.  Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this stuff?  Maybe the mindfulness ride was over?  Perhaps I was just destined to live out life with a slightly melancholy mindset.  Blame it on my DNA and, you know, you can’t beat Mother Nature.

Then my guru told me about meditating with INTENTION.  My internal cynic said, “Yeah, sure…. sounds like a gimmick to me.” Meditation with intention, meditation for self-discovery.  He instructed me to do the usual deep breathing but, as I slipped into the minutes of meditation, I was to set a deliberate intention by asking a specific question that needed an answer.  Eventually I landed on this:   “What is getting in the way of my spirituality?”  (“No expectation; let’s see what happens…”) So, as instructed, I meditated with intention…. once, twice…..and by the end of that second sitting I had three clear, real answers that had popped into my consciousness.  I was simply astonished.  In a short intentional space of time I discovered that my spirituality was compromised by (1) often worrying about results, (2) spending too much time on digital distractions (Facebook, news on the iPhone) and (3) lack of faith in the answers I have inside. Specific answers, to the point!

Learning about myself has been one of the greatest joys of my mindfulness journey.  Having this simple tool of meditating with intention gives me yet another avenue for self-discovery.  With awareness of what was getting in the way of my spirituality, I am finding even more contentment and gratitude in every day of my life. “Doing is believing!”

    –Kathy Babula

How to Overcome the Stress that all Mothers Know

“I came to get the rest of my stuff,” announced my daughter as she walked in the door on a visit from Nashville where she has been living for the last six months.  And with those words I felt my quiet desperation stirring.  “Came to get the rest of your stuff?” the words echoed back in my head.  “You mean like ‘sayonara, adios, see ya later and good riddance’??” I thought to myself.  Overcome with a sense of melancholy, my thoughts raced, remembering how strange it has been to progress from the stages of “still-living-with-parents” to “oh boy, she’s on her own and I’m gonna miss her” to “oh no, she’s never coming back”  to “how the heck did I get to be 63?  Now I AM my mother”  to “I am several steps closer to the grave!”  Talk about monkey mind!  I can taste the bananas in my mouth.

I consider myself a fairly aware person after nine years of mindfulness and meditation practice.  But every once in a while I am clearly reminded that I am not free from the pains of human nature.  Fear of change.  Attachment.  Resistance.  Push-pull (of the heart strings?)  It just walked in the door from Nashville.

And so my biggest challenge rears its ugly head once again:  I AM A MASTER AT BEING ATTACHED. I am attached to a fantasy that I wanted but never got as a child, that of consistent and open dialogue between mother and daughter.  After all, I breastfed the kid until forever, I carried her in that darn sling for hours on end and I tried to show my emotions in the most authentic ways possible.  Funny, back in the day it was called “attachment parenting.”  Ha ha, who’s laughing now?  And who, by the way, is attached to whom???

Digging deeper, I realize that witnessing her freedom (oh, that exciting life stretching before her;  I remember the thrill of possibilities when I moved from Michigan all the way to Oregon at her age) takes me back to my past which fills me with that black hole of “where did my youth go/I will never have that hopeful exuberance again/ I thought getting older would take longer/I never thought it would happen to me.” (Sigh.) Then it hits me right between the eyes:  I am in the past and the future, but not even close to the present.  Again.

Awareness leads me to step off that roller coaster.  RIGHT NOW my daughter is happy, healthy and making a life for herself.  My attachment to our respective outcomes is misplaced focus on the future and a surefire formula for anxiety and stress.  (Like I’ve never heard THAT one before!!!)  Being attached to what I imagine COULD be coming around the corner is wasted energy.  I take a deep breath and return to Planet Here and Now, remembering that present-time EFFORT is what creates success in the future and is all I need to work with in this moment.

So, with good effort, we packed her car with “stuff” and said our bittersweet goodbyes (for now.)  And as she drove away, I couldn’t help but notice that her path, after 24 years, leads away from this house while mine, after 63 years, has brought me right here, right now to this front porch, letting go.

How to Manage Stress? It’s All About Perspective.

Easter and Passover have come and gone, but do you know about the many other holidays in April?  Aside from National Cheeseball Day on the 17th and Look Alike Day on the 20th (dress like the person you admire; I pick Prince!!), April 16th happened to be National Stress Awareness Day.  Are you kidding me??  Started by the Health Resource Network in 1992 (whoa, the year in which my daughter was born…how did they know that parenting was a major stressor in my life???), it is touted as an opportunity to recognize and learn about the stress in your life AND to do something about it (not a coincidence that it comes just before the day that taxes are due to the IRS.)

Well, this is just too blog-olicious!  My mind spins back to the first time I heard my guru’s unique definition of stress.  “Stress is RESISTANCE.”  Resistance??  Hmm, let me consider that one.  Resistance……you mean when a colleague disagrees with my plans going forward and I look like I am calm but inside I am hating the entire scenario and fantasizing about ripping someone’s head off??  You mean when my daughter does NOT fold her clothes neatly but piles them on the floor of her bedroom and I am totally undone because that is NOT the way I would do it (and I am SURE she will be a slob for the rest of her life)??  Like when I wrestle with the “what if’s” as I try to orchestrate tomorrow and the next day and the next even though it is still TODAY??  Hmmmmm…..

It all starts with expectations. For much of my life, feeling irritated and annoyed really meant I expected everyone to think and act like I do.  If results did not turn out in my favor and on my side, I felt a sense of defeat and loss mixed with anger.  “Hey, I’m a smart gal; why doesn’t everyone else agree with me??” (especially that guy I married.)  I wasn’t getting what I thought I wanted and deserved.  Me (right) against you (wrong.)  Sometimes my expectations were totally personal and internal, trying to foresee the future so I could “cover all the bases” in my efforts to take care of every possible outcome (perfectionism disguised as “being the responsible one.”)

Through my mindfulness meditation practice, I better understand how “stress as resistance” affects my life.  Resistance equals push-pull, energy invested in future outcome and the anxiety that comes with it.  When stress begins to creep into my body (headache, shallow breathing, tight shoulders) in any number of situations or I become aware of uneven emotions, I stop and ask myself, “Where is the resistance?”  It is always there, hidden in expectations of myself and/or others that are of the future and simply not real.  While this might imply that I should give up the ghost and only aim for the bottom of the expectation barrel, I have learned to allow high expectations, but WITHOUT GETTING ATTACHED TO THEM.  Voila, no resistance.  Do the work that is in front of me that points in the direction I want to go, then LET IT GO and see what happens!  (And, by the way, what happens has so far been something I can always manage.)

So, with National Stress Day this month, I am reminded of the succinct lesson that dispels a lot of my resistance:  Listen (to myself, to the person with whom I am interacting), Accept (whatever the message is), then Let It Go (do not be attached to the results.)  That being said,  I think it’s time to go look for my Prince attire and my celebratory cheeseball.  Happy April!

Get Rid of Stress, Improve Productivity

I don’t know too many people who enthusiastically declare, “I just LOVE every single part of my job!”  More often I hear comments like “I enjoy my work most of the time, but I wish I didn’t have to (x,y,z) as part of it.”  For many people, the “x,y,z” has become such a stress-ball, it creates a negative cloud over all aspects of their working life and, since Americans work more than anyone else in the industrialized world, this can be a pervasive problem.

While my employment experience is not in the traditional “corporate” world, as a teacher in a private school for 29 years I have certainly felt the pangs of increased accountability, intense clients (picture “life or death panic mindset”), 24/7 unlimited email overload, impossible expectations from many agendas and “to-do” lists that never got shorter no matter how fast I peddled.

The result?

Feelings of inadequacy (“Hey, I was valedictorian of my class, my college GPA was 4.0 plus and I have experience….why do I feel so incompetent??”),  depression over not having enough time to complete any task thoroughly, fear that something would slip through the cracks, horror that my attitude was morphing into “me vs. you/ them”,  moments of paralysis,  a slowly boiling anger that I had been put in an unrelentingly stressful environment, and disappointment in myself that I couldn’t find my way out of this whirling vortex.  Whew!  I am exhausted just putting those words on paper.

So how DOES one find the way out of this personal inferno?  It is easy to think that downright QUITTING would solve the problem (and sometimes it does, I can’t deny that), but for most of us, dealing with what’s in front of us is the real job to be done.  And so I turned to mindfulness meditation.

While not an overnight cure, I look back at how my meditation practice has changed my work attitude.  (1)  I am not nearly as emotionally attached to results.  You know how everything in a corporation/business/school is all ABOUT results???  What a mind-blowing concept to simply do the hard work in front of you and then let it go, knowing the results will come.  (2)  This leads to more relaxation, focus and creative thinking.  My mind feels refreshed and I see options; it’s as though a thousand-pound weight about yesterday and/ or tomorrow has dropped away.  (3)  I am more able to listen openly to colleagues and administration without going right to “blow a gasket–right/wrong–me vs. you” mode. (Meditation is proven to increase compassion!)  Add to that not being attached to the outcome (see #1) and communication is immediately improved.  (4)  I am learning that cheesy, old-school lesson about putting myself first and, as much of a work warrior as I am, it is the key to my positive mindset.  Being aware when I am feeling anxious, then taking breaks to breathe and reflect or to put emails on hiatus and give me MY space to regroup are an essential part of the daily routine.

It took mindfulness meditation to re-set and re-energize myself in the workplace.  Sure, there are days when directives from top-down make me think, “Well, THAT’S totally impossible” but instead of jumping immediately to anxiety about the future and how things MUST turn out, I breathe deeply, relax and carry on, focusing on the present tasks at hand.  Research shows that mindfulness meditation in the workplace leads to resilience, productivity, camaraderie and happy, peppy people.  Why not give it a try?

Reduce Your Stress, Improve Your Love Life

“My love life would totally improve if S/HE would just ______ (fill in the blank).” Listen to me? Show some emotion? Not complain about 24/7 sports on the tube? Stop leaving used dental floss on the coffee table?? Although I acknowledged I played a role in our imperfect relationship, I cannot tell you how many times I was quite certain that HE needed to change a few (thousand) things to fix it.

Then mindfulness meditation came along.

Just when I thought it was all HIS fault, I started learning how to connect with myself and discovered “the cause of my suffering.” In the process of mindful exploration, I became very aware how much I lacked self-love. Yup, cheesy but true. My lifelong habit of helping others AT THE EXPENSE OF MYSELF was affecting all areas of my life. I uncovered the anger I felt as I allowed others to drain my spirit. (Keeping a smile on my face while wanting to rip someone’s head off takes a LOT of energy.) That old adage about “charity starts at home” began to make more sense than ever and meditation gave me the freedom to let it happen. After all, the most important relationship is the one I have with myself.

As my awareness grew, I discovered the things I do that give me less stress and began to do MORE of those things. Feeling relaxed and cared for from the inside, I began to feel compassion and less judgment on the outside. And so it spilled over into my marriage.

I didn’t plan it that way. I just went to get lessons in meditation and, miraculously, by learning to take care of myself and relax, my marriage feels like an opportunity instead of a project to fix. Are things always hunky-dory? Not always, but most of the time and, if any conflicts do arise, I have my mindfulness tools to help me navigate those waters. What I know is that most days my husband’s dental floss on the coffee table seems like a funny habit I can laugh at now. Besides, why waste my time worrying? I am way too busy doing the things that give me energy and fill my soul!

Happy Holidaze

“I should be basking in gratitude for my family and friends during this holiday season.  I should feel the joy of the loftier things in life.”  That’s what my rational mind tells me but right now I’m at the mall and I’m eyeing the other frantic shoppers, hoping they don’t get to the discounts before I do.  To heck with joyful and grateful.  My breathing is ragged, my heart is pounding; I am on the hunt for the Perfect Gifts and you’d better not get in my way. My spiritual practice has gone awry and I am totally caught up in a stress reaction.

A good idea hits me:  take a breath, lady.  Take a few breaths.  Settle down.  Relax.  Observe yourself like a movie. “I am ridiculously anxious.”  Let’s track this.  “I have to get the perfect gifts for everyone.  I gotta be a gift-giving Rockstar.”  Breathing in and out, the ah-ha’s start to hit me.  Time to remember my mindfulness tool kit.

1)  OK, just acknowledge that I am anxious because this is the holiday habit I have embraced over the years.  Now I can accept it, laugh a bit, and let it go.  (It might take more than one try!)

2)  There is a reason I am anxious.  Fear that I won’t provide the Best Holiday Ever?  Greed in wanting to get the bargain before other shoppers and show off as the Rockstar Gift Giver? Obligation to give others the perfect holiday? Yes, yes and yes.  Now I can let go of these attachments more easily.  Awareness rocks!

3)  Now that I know WHY I am anxious, it is time to accept my human nature.

4)  Expectations have ruled my holiday insanity since forever and are causing my stress.  See #1-3 above!

5)  I am projecting way ahead instead of just being HERE.  Will hubby like his new iPhone?  Will daughter approve of the color of her new scarf?  I remind myself to stay in the present and, by doing so, I will have clear, creative thinking (and shopping!)  By staying here and now, my worry about the future melts away and I start to enjoy my day.

I continue my shopping with deep breathing as my companion.  Staying in the present, I put less weight on choosing the “right” gifts or on creating the perfect holiday and more importance on taking care of myself right here, right now.   A new tradition?  I feel free.

–Kathy B

The Studio

I walk into The Studio.  Been waiting for this for several days ever since the weekend went kablooey;  the fridge broke down (not the freezer, just the fridge….go figure), we found out the new and improved satellite TV upgrade doesn’t work for our tree-surrounded house, I broke my eyeglasses in a freak encounter with clear glass doors on the bookcase and the cat weighed in at a whopping 23 pounds requiring a diet that I don’t have time to monitor!  This week it was the fleas, not the elephants, that kept me on my mindfulness toes.

And then I walk into The Studio, that oasis of sanity containing soft pillows, calming candles, those amazing ginger chews (“Take one for the road!”), my most excellent instructor and lessons to be learned.  What makes this place so magical?  One hour to be, one hour to reflect, one hour to “mind meld” with my teacher, one hour to focus on myself.

One hour to realize that the lessons learned in this quiet space are not isolated to The Studio.  The seeds are planted and I take them (and that delish ginger chew) with me wherever I go.  “Accept and let go” seems like a tall order, but as a matter of fact, I didn’t freak out over the fridge food that spoiled, I was nice to the cable guy, I figured the broken glasses were a “meant to be” since I had a prescription for new lenses, and the cat?  He makes a terrific doorstop!

-Kathy B

Kathy Babula’s Bio

4 Easy Steps to Achieve Peace of Mind

Relax, breathe, let it go and think positively.

1. Give yourself permission to relax.
Before you can sit down to meditate, you have to give yourself permission to do so. It’s simple but doing nothing isn’t something that’s valued in our modern culture where value is found in productivity. However, stopping to meditate is the very thing that will enable us to be more productive with better health and better attitudes. This is so simple, but it’s not easy so just stick with it. When a distraction comes up, acknowledge it and let it go. This way you can become aware of yourself and the world around you.

2. Take a breath.
Take one long slow deep breath. Then take another. Don’t worry about doing it right. There is no right or wrong. You will get what you need if you just breathe. Allow yourself to feel the calm that is already within you.  Your parasympathetic nervous system will take this as a sign to relax. Your mind will see it as an opportunity to become quiet. Simply allow yourself to slow down for five to eight minutes and breathe. That is the start to any meditation practice.

3. Let it go.
Realize that this time, your meditation time, is when you can let it all go. Whatever burden you are carrying around with you, dragging from room to room, whatever it is, just set it down and let it go. Emotions, fears, things others have said, LET IT GO. That is just your 40,000 year-old brain doing what it does, looking for danger and planning for demise. It’s time for you to take over and LET IT GO.

4. Fill the space.
Whatever you let go of, now decide how to fill that space. If you don’t, your brain will decide for you. Love is always a good place to start.  Every time you start to put someone down, worry about something in the future, criticize someone else or criticize yourself, you plant a seed. Stop yourself from those thoughts and plant a little seed of love and positivity. I realize it sounds a little Pollyanna but just as in riding a bike, you will go where you are looking.

So there you are, four simple steps to creating your own path to your own enlightenment, one that will happen right here, right now. Not tomorrow, not in the next lifetime.
It will happen in the ER, hospital ward, home and car, at the beach and on the street. It will happen in your everyday life. I know. It has happened in mine and that is Meditation.

Ranjit Deora
704-277-6049
ranjit@charlottemeditation.com
www.charlottemeditation.com

Laughter, the best meditative medicine

Want the potential mental and physical health benefits of meditation without the work of chasing away all those intrusive thoughts and feelings? Try laughing, a study suggests.

Laughter — the real kind, associated with genuine joy and mirth — sets off brain wave patterns quite similar to those generated when experienced meditators ply their mindfulness skills, a new study finds.

Researchers know that when hooked up to an electroencephalograph, which measures electrical activity among neurons in the brain, those practiced in the art of meditation are able to achieve a brain state of what is called gamma brain wave activity: In it, virtually all of the brain’s higher cortical regions begin to operate on a common frequency, somewhere in the 30- to 40-hertz bandwidth.

Unlike the dreamless sleep in which alpha brain waves sweep across the brain or the cacophony of alert mental activity associated with beta brain waves, gamma waves tend to be synchronous throughout the brain. It’s the brain wave pattern associated with cognitive “flow,” with being “in the zone,” with the highest state of cognitive processing.

And the gamma brain wave state is as pleasurable as it is powerful: The neurochemical dopamine, the fuel of the brain’s reward circuitry, flows freely when gamma waves prevail. That makes gamma, once experienced, a state we want to return to again and again.

The research was presented in San Diego this week by Dr. Lee Berk, a psychosomatic medicine specialist at Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine. Berk told the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2014 meeting that, for 31 university students whose scalps were rigged up with listening electrodes while they watched videos either distressing or comical, unfettered laughter was the thing that brought their brain waves most consistently into a mock-meditative state.

And fast too. “It took off like a rocket,” Berk said. After subjects were settled in front of a humor video they had pre-rated as really tickling their funny bone, the laughing out loud began. And in short order, cortical regions from front to back and ear to ear were humming on a single frequency: gamma.

The contrast was stark between that electrical brain state and that induced when subjects watched a one-minute video they found distressing. In those cases, Berk said, the brain’s electrical activity varied across regions, but it stayed on average at low frequencies.

“It was flat-linish,” Berk said, “a sort of shutting-down reaction.”

For the brain-wave-reading sessions, subjects were offered a range of comic and slapstick videos from sources such as YouTube and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Much of the comedy was presented before an audience, heightening, for some, the sense of infectious hilarity. Dark or derogatory humor was not among the choices.

Among the distressing videos were snippets of horror stories. Among the most commonly cited as most distressing was the raw opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan,” in which the Allies’ landing in Normandy, where thousands of soldiers charged to their death, was depicted.

Meditation, with its well-established benefits, may not be for everyone, Berk said. But humor is certainly within reach for all of us, and in the interest of our health, he said, we should dose ourselves regularly.

“I’m serious about laughter,” Berk said in an interview. It’s medicine, he said. “We need to tune into it and reap the reward.”