Today I sat to write my Second Blog Post. I whipped the first blog out almost effortlessly; the start of a new year begs for a blog whose focus is resolving to change! That was low-hanging fruit, as they say. And now, for my second blog...uh-oh, had I picked all the easy citrus? I wanted to introduce one of my favorite topics, mindfulness, but what to say that hasn't been said, and by folks more eloquent than I?
Mindfulness, says Jon Kabat-Zinn, is the act of paying attention, on purpose to the present moment without grasping to judgment. My clients have heard me say this many times before in our striving to allow what is happening more room on the stage filled with our distractions and defenses. It's so simple, I tell my clients, and so difficult, this mindfulness. Our brains are wired to keep us safe, and so our neocortex turns our attention to that which might cause us the most danger. My life is pretty darn easy, all things considered (no attacking bears, poisonous mushrooms, unsurvivable winters just around the corner) and so my mind focuses naturally on the things it interprets as danger—not being good enough, getting things screwed up, failing at my roles, unintentionally causing harm to my children. I am physically safe, but my darn amygdala keeps firing, setting off the alarm that causes my body flush with hormones that ready me to fight, flee or freeze. Too much of that, and I am noticing symptoms. Difficulty concentrating, chronically upset stomach, waking up with a start, heart fluttering. My intervention is to notice without judgment, the sensations in the moment, as the practice of mindfulness teaches. I aspire to thicken my neocortex and weaken the link between my amygdala and the rest of my brain so that I am calmer, less fight-or-flighty over thoughts about forgetting my kids' lunch or missing an appointment. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/video/how-does-meditation-change-the-brai2013-10-30/)
Here at my small desk, today, I wonder how I can bring all this home to my Tiny Blog Audience? (I call you that because it goes with my office on the farm and let's face it, it's my second blog, and you, my audience, are tiny).
There at my computer in my Tiny Office, I wrote a couple of fruitless paragraphs and stared out the window when—I am not making this up—I spotted a bald eagle flying above the pond just to the north of me. I immediately and harshly corrected myself, sure that I was wrong. “It's a hawk, Drama Queen, the sunshine just makes it appear to have a white head and tail feathers. Calm down, Conclusion Jumper!” [tightness below my rib cage] I slipped out of my office to spy more closely, [heart beating faster] and soon it circled straight above me, in its effortless way on the invisible currents of air. [expansiveness in my chest and upper back] I was not mistaken! A bald eagle!
Let's just get side tracked for a moment. A month ago, at a California zoo, I heard a mother tell her small son, right in front of one of these magestic avians, that the bald eagle was extinct. I remember feeling the sensations in my body then [heaviness in my stomach] at the mere idea of extinction, the finality of it. I remember now [heat in face, chest drawn in slightly] how I had laughed behind her back at the mistake this mother made, knowing that she didn't have her facts straight, that bald eagles had recently been removed from the endangered species list and are now on the "least concern list" (http://www.buzzle.com/articles/endangered-bald-eagle.html.) How self-righteous, I. [tightness in my chest]
Remembering that day and how easily I jumped from the seemingly intolerable Tiny Experience of grieving the loss of the bald eagle [heaviness, a “pit” in my stomach] to a more enjoyable Tiny Experience of laughing at someone else's expense [lightness, movement fluttering in my lungs]. I understand this now as my learned effort to distract me from my own sadness. This small example of how a thought leads to an uncomfortable feeling expressed in my body first by a sensation causes me to distract myself from it by a small, unkind action. When viewed in the context of children who feel hurt turn to take it out on someone else or (gasp! can it be?) a group that feels violated creates violence to get revenge for their loss of power, I begin to see how healing begins with ourselves. By paying attention and learning to accept, tolerate and comfort ourselves through even the slightest of body sensations, we can keep the unkind acts from jumping out and emanate a centeredness that is peace. And so, we begin by noticing the smallest physical sensations [these things, adjectives describing a part of our bodies]. We let them be noticed, without rushing to judge or fix them. This is the process of listening to our bodies so that we may integrate our whole experience before for we act in a way that does not add peace and kindness into the world.
That eagle today reminds me to circle, circle back to my body, my guide to what IS. I notice the [expansiveness in my chest and the lift in my face] when I open to the lesson I was not expecting, from this visitor I was not expecting. How humbling, how wonder-full.
May I be like the eagle, silently gaining perspective by circling, circling, seeing and allowing, without judging or pouncing. May I use nature to guide me, and may I trust my own strength to keep me above that ground where thoughts mire me or where uncomfortable feelings tangle me in unkind action.
May we all extend our wings, rising higher than the suffering on the ground. May we move the current above to create winds of change. May we light on our goal with precision and strength to sustain us, but not take more than we need.
For a chance to create those winds of peace within ourselves and our community, please join us at 4e Yoga Studio in McMinnville on Saturday, January 24th for a Yoga and Meditation for Peace. (See the Upcomers page for details.)
This January, as Americans everywhere are making plans for changes they want to make in their lives, I will be celebrating ten years of being in independent counseling practice in McMinnville, Oregon. Ten years ago I was pregnant with my first child, dreaming of what our life might be like with a new baby and how I might still be able to do some of the work that had given me meaning over the previous ten years as a social worker. As a beneficiary of feminist work in our country, I was determined to "do it all." Indeed, I have had the privilege of great support from family and friends and have been lucky to to establish my own counseling practice and to meet some of Yamhill County's residents. It has been a decade full of the rich opportunity to connect with clients as they seek to improve their lives and relationships in ways meaningful to them. I am honored by the opportunity to continue working closely with individuals and families as they identify how they want to change over time. My re-envisioned goal for 2015 is to help clients build their capacity for wellness so that they may thrive. I believe that our contemporary lives have lost some of the essential components of wellness. We are seeing all-time high rates of medication use for depression, anxiety, sleeplessness an chronic pain. My therapeutic work is about joining the power of connection between people with the essential awareness of the present moment to create and experience that enlarges a client's sense of what is possible. In 2015, I'll be folding in more of the natural world to help clients increase emotional grounding and peace as well as promote physical health and wellness. I'll invite more clients to walk in nature, to sit under the stars for their session or to brush Willy, our friendly Apaloosa. There is no denying our deep connection to nature and so I will use it to help my clients come back to themselves at their most aware and powerful.
If you, like me, are wishing to make a change in your life in some way, perhaps starting with noticing the tiny (or large) part yourself that knows that you would be happier with that change. Perhaps you will choose to give life to that part, like planting a tiny seed, you'll nurture that little insight with a sprinkle of compassion and hope. Is there one small thing you can do today to honor that little insight and turn it into action toward change? It is my hope for you that you will believe in that part of you that yearns to do something better, and that you will act on it. Here are five tips to help you nurture that tiny sprout: 1) Visualize the difference. Our brains benefit from any time we spend imagining the way we want ourselves to be. Instead of telling yourself to stop nagging your child, play the film in your head of you talking calmly to your child, leaning down slowly to get to his level and surprising him (and yourself!) with a gentle smile. 2) Step-by-step. Break your hopelessly large desires-to-change into small steps so that you can manage a small pro-action each day. If you want to get more active, make an appointment to fix your bike, or take a short walk. 3) Awareness without judgment. Pay attention to yourself. If you notice that as you take your bike to be fixed you feel organized, allow yourself to really feel that, expanding that fleeting thought into a 45 second experience. If you don't take as long of a walk as you wanted to, busy yourself in not judging by paying attention to how it actually feels to walk, rather than assessing the outcome. 4) Effort and Self-Compassion. If you notice that you are overeating in the late afternoon, don't beat yourself up, and make a plan for that difficult time of day. If you are beating yourself up, for goodness sake, notice that and introduce another voice that is kinder and less brutal. (No child ever thrived from an adult berating her, so use what you already know to support your efforts.) The kind voice is a good beginning. Also recognize that your desired change requires time and, likely sweat equity. You are going to mess up doing the hard work to change, so plan on it and give yourself some forgiveness along the way. My husband reminds us that it's OK to make mistakes, just try to make new ones as you keep working instead of the same old ones! 5) Cultivate Support. Think of the one or two people who comfort and/or inspire you, and use their energy to help you keep up any good work. Steer clear of those who suck your life force, you'll gain more momentum by being around positivity! If you don't readily think of someone who can support you, seek professional help. We counselors are trained to be the person running alongside you reminding you of all the fabulous strengths you've already shown and troubleshooting the inevitable pot holes and rocks in the road. Change takes time and effort, and I wish for you that you make a bit of it happen in 2015!