Mindfulness

Managing Holiday Stress with Mindfulness and Gratitude

Starting around mid-November, my stress has a way of whirling itself into a tornado of chaos. So many things to prepare, to remember, to DO – people to reach out to, family relationships to manage, presents to buy, food to cook, errands to run! Traffic increasing, long lines at the store, bank accounts letting out more than they’re taking in… The tumult of the next six weeks is supposed to culminate in a joy-filled holiday break of reflection and celebration, infused with the spirit of giving. So HOW exactly do I maintain my peace in the midst of the madness? By finding the place inside of me where everything is quiet and still instead of expecting to find it outside of me, by depending on my own mindfulness practice of gratitude in the present moment.

Focused on gratitude, I ALLOW myself to feel the peace and happiness that accompany it. Guru Ranjit always says that stress is resistance within my body and my mind, so by ‘flipping the switch’ of my focus towards thoughts and emotions that are easy to embrace, I remove resistance and find a path of positive forward motion. When feeling resistance to an activity, I focus on performing the activity with all of my awareness, intentionally guiding myself towards thoughts of gratitude. For instance, when I resist the logistical nightmares of lining up multiple family gatherings and preparing adequately for each one, I guide my thoughts towards how lucky I feel to have so many loved ones with whom I share the holidays and how grateful I am that I have the resources to give gifts, food and time to these people that I love.

By releasing resistance within my body, I engage more fully in whatever task is at hand. At meals I focus on eating mindfully; I worry less about calories and instead appreciate the love and energy that has gone into every bite. During cleaning, cooking and running errands, I am mindful of my breathing. Most importantly, though, during all of my interactions, I speak and listen mindfully. Tense conversations and friction at extended family functions are an opportunity to be grateful for those you love and a chance to choose silence and a smile instead of jumping into the fray.

I find that when my heart is full of gratitude, kindness comes much more easily to me. I interact with others, focusing on the hope that they are loved, healthy, happy and safe. Self-care is easier with a heart and mind full of gratitude, and by practicing kindness towards myself, I have more to offer others. As Guru likes to remind me, I can’t give to others what I don’t already have within. That’s why true charity starts at home.

So this holiday season, when the stress rises to a fever pitch, I know to turn my attention first to my breath and then to my gratitude. Resistance fades as I let the happiness and peace associated with gratefulness roll in. Then I can focus on what I need to do and truly enjoy the ride to that joy-filled holiday break of reflection and celebration.

~Ashley Moye~

Weaving a Tapestry of Laughter and Joy around the Pillars of Your Life

Carrying Guru Ranjit’s words as inspiration, “Breathing and meditation are the two pillars of life that make the building solid,” I walked in to a local elementary school, excited to begin my first solo lesson of the fall as a certified meditation teacher. Representing Youth Meditation (the non-profit arm of Charlotte Meditation), I hoped to provide these children with tools they can use in order to build a solid life of clarity and peace. Instead, through my interactions with the first and second graders during my first week of classes I rediscovered another essential tool of my own – laughter and joy. By weaving these materials around my pillars of breathing and meditation, I infuse my entire life with a sense of safety, companionship and warmth.

In our Youth Meditation curriculum, we traditionally begin our eight-week sessions with laughter yoga, using the exercises to build an open environment where we can laugh and feel comfortable with each other, ready to have fun with the next eight weeks of practice. Laughter yoga has been around for thousands of years, beginning in India as a way to bring villages together – and yes, while there is something inherently awkward and uncomfortable about forcing foolishness with each other, the awkwardness almost immediately gives way into authentic laughter. By the close of a good laughter yoga session, I end up engaging completely, dropping reservations and finding delight in nothing but the joy of laughter with others. In my Youth Meditation classes, students who were initially reserved, nervous or withdrawn bloomed in front of my eyes as I gripped their hands and looked deeply into their eyes before breaking out in to a smile, chuckling with each other for no reason besides “it’s fun to laugh together.”

This experience with the children impacted me in a powerful way. As someone who has spent a large amount of time in a troubleshooting field, seeing errors and anomalies without even looking (four leaf clovers have always been an easy find!), I often struggled to see positives when a negative was present. Guru recommended the practice of intentional meditation so I practiced purposefully being aware of all things good, positive and right surrounding me instead of the things that weren’t. I was amazed at the immediate difference it made in my interior life and in the way that people related to me and felt in my company. So many wonderful things that were ALREADY present in my daily moments slipped outside my notice when I trained my attention on the failures of myself, the world and others for the sake of “continuous improvement.” I finally saw that the potential for laughter, joy and positive connections with others was present in every mindful moment.

I stand by Guru’s statement that breathing and meditation are the pillars of life – but my experience with my students reminded me that cultivating and maintaining laughter and joy is the next essential step.  If I weave laughter and joy around my pillars of breathing and meditation, I find myself surrounded by contentment and happiness. The positive is ALWAYS present, but I have to maintain openness within my mind and body in order to truly embrace it!

~Ashley Moye~

Stop Waiting and Start Living

I get up in the morning.  I look at my calendar.  I have an appointment at 2 PM.  So what do I do?

I unconsciously slip into a state of “waiting”.  Thinking about what’s ahead.  Am I prepared?  Are all the ducks in a row?  Looking at my navigation app to make sure I know where I need to be in six hours.  In my head I calculate how much time this appointment requires. Anticipation sits like a heavy cloak on my shoulders.  “Gotta jump through that 2 PM hoop then I can move on to….”

To what?? To waiting for the NEXT commitment? To living five steps ahead of where I actually am?  It hits me:  this isn’t living, this is looking at life as a series of obligations to fulfill, events to check off a list, activities that are gateways to …. my real life?  This isn’t living; this is limbo.  A constant state of wandering in the future feeling disconnected and anxious.

The solution?  See what’s in front of me.  Bring my attention to this minute and then the next and then the next; after all I have 360 of them before 2 PM.

No longer in the waiting room, I am active, I am energized, I feel grounded.  Yes, THIS is living.

by Kathy Babula

It’s All About the Crumbs

I used to think my mindfulness practice was measured by my patience in traffic, my skill in letting go of results or my ability to reduce judgment when interacting with stupid people.

However, I have lately realized that my barometer for mindfulness is all about the crumbs….my husband’s crumbs, in fact.

Every morning my husband gets up early and makes himself the same breakfast: cereal with almond milk, large glass of OJ, toast. Then he takes these items into the den, sits down in front of the desktop computer, and proceeds to scan the local newspaper while eating. Dishes in the dishwasher, a kiss goodbye and he’s off to work.

And I am left with crumbs. Crumbs on the swivel chair, crumbs on and in the keyboard, crumbs, endless crumbs. Every. Single. Day.

This habit has the potential to make me blow a gasket. “What is wrong with him?? Doesn’t he see the mess he leaves behind?? And now I must clean it up! I would NEVER be this thoughtless!”

For days I stewed over his disgusting habit with no end in sight. I pondered the consequences of confronting him or just letting it go. I meditated with crumbs on my mind and interesting thoughts began to show up. “This whole crumb thing is kind of funny. I mean, it’s just crumbs.” “I could look at them as evidence of my husband’s presence. There is LIFE in this place and here’s the proof!” “I can accept the crumbs; could be worse!” And, finally, “Oh by the way, remember the man has glaucoma. He probably can’t even SEE the crumbs!”

And so, the once-dreaded crumbs have morphed into a daily reminder of the presence of a person I love and appreciate. I no longer feel angry as I vacuum the crumbs from the keyboard. As a matter of fact, I consider it an amusing morning ritual and a unique way to measure my inner peace.

It’s all about the crumbs.

by Kathy Babula

To Do or Not to Do: Is THAT the Question?

I’m sitting with my guru in a “meditation + chat” session.  The conversation turns to my constant struggle with “what do I do next?”

“How do you feel when you THINK about doing something?” asks Guru.

“Anxious.”

“How do you feel when you are actually DOING it?”

“Relaxed.”

BINGO!  Light bulb ON!  In that short exchange, the heavens open and I discover clarity of mind.

All too often, the anticipation of “what I could be doing” starts feeling like STRESS.  (“Well, I could work on that project/ learn a new skill/ clean out the garage/ have that conversation with so-and-so.  But what if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it to?  What if I have to work harder/ make more decisions/ admit defeat?  Maybe it’s better if I just sit here….“)

Then along come the SHOULDS.  (“I should be able to go ahead and do XYZ instead of sitting here wasting time.  I should be able to make a choice and get on with it.   I shouldn’t feel so stuck; after all, this isn’t rocket science.”)

Anxiety about the outcome, anxiety about the future, attachment to predicting the unknown, “analysis is paralysis.”   Where’s the fun in that?

The minute I recognize my procrastination as fear and I decide to “take things lightly,” I move ahead and DO something with the notion that I will “see what happens.”  I experience a feeling of adventure, a camaraderie with the anxiety that was keeping me glued to my seat with inaction.  I feel at ease because I am engaged in the present “doing no matter how it turns out.

Let’s face it.  DOING is much more relaxing than THINKING ABOUT DOINGDOING is confidence in myself and everything that unfolds as a result of my action. So, go ahead:  JUST DO IT and see what happens!

February: Love Yourself First

After the beautiful chaos of the holidays, the bright and shiny New Year’s celebration (including all its expectations) and the recent unexpected frigid temperatures, I find myself in February, confronting some Winter Blues.  But, as “they” say, “it’s all curriculum” and is turning into nuggets of wisdom that remind me how to take care of myself in this month of love!

#1.  “This too shall pass.” This maxim has stood the test of time and while it can be classified as mighty corny, it’s true. If I have the patience to accept, let go and keep going, everything unfolds and shades of melancholy shift into satisfaction.  Works every time.

#2.  “Where am I?”  A good question to ask myself when I feel stressed.  Am I in the past, ruminating about a (stupid) thing I said or did or something someone else said or did? Am I in the future, making endless and overwhelming lists or attempting to control the outcome of a situation?   If so, my emotions will run the gamut from depression to anxiety with a side of doom ‘n gloom thrown in.  It is only when I am in the present that I have any chance of peace.

#3.  “All rise.  The Honorable Judge _____ (fill in your name) presiding.”  If only I had a nickel for every time I judged another person, a situation or myself…… bet you know what I mean!  The moment I am aware of my resistance and the judgmental thoughts that are attached, I can laugh at myself and start to let go of the ensuing tightness I feel in my body.

#4.  “Notice the Inner Eeyore”.  OK, this could just apply to me, but Sad Sack mode is often my default setting.  While yours might be Anxious Andy or Fearful Florence, the solution is always in the noticing of it.  When the spiral takes a downward spin, the sooner I am aware of it (“Whoa, here we go, Eeyore!”), the less power it holds.  What I love is that I don’t have to put energy into fixing anything, all I have to do is notice.  No heavy lifting required!

So, in this traditional Month of Love, while you’re buying Valentines and sweets for those you appreciate, acknowledge the person who stares back at you in the mirror every day. After all, the most powerful love of all is Love of Self.

    –Kathy Babula

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!