The pleasure state

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DAY 46

15th February, 2014

I opened my eyes, and immediately wanted to shut them again. Sharp, stinging pain shot across my brain. Great. I have a headache. Again. Immediately my head was filled with all of the things I needed to get done today. The washing, the food shopping, the house needed cleaning and we had a film shoot. With 5 guest speakers and hosts. There was no way I could cancel  it. We were also racing to meet a deadline to upload the next show to YouTube. Even though our show is an amateur project, we already have hundreds of followers who view the show every week, and send us endless comments and cute emails inspiring us to keep making the show. I couldn’t let them down. And frankly I didn’t want to.

I turned over and repositioned the pillow under my head. Maybe if I lay like this a little longer my head would clear. My cat jumped on the bed next to my head and started to need the pillow and purr in my ear. Seriously MiMi? I opened one eye. She purred even louder and nudged my face. This is code for “Get up! I need to be fed.” Now in the past I may have tried to hunker down under my doona, but I have learnt over the ten years of living with MiMi, she is by far the superior being and will always win out in any battle of wills. Her desire to be fed, is far greater than my desire to sleep. Apparently.

So I dragged myself downstairs with my head pounding, fed MiMi and Cuba (our dog who relies on MiMi to do the dirty work and get me out of bed), put the kettle on and rummaged through the medicine cabinet for pain killers. This was going to be one long day.

What an interesting thought.

Well, if that was my mindset, it was definitely going to be one long day. One painfully long day.

What if I changed my thinking, and instead thought about what an amazing day I was about to have? And what if I looked for the good, the beautiful, the exciting, the best of the day? What if I practiced mindfulness, and focused on breathing, being present and savouring every moment?

What if I chased the pleasure?

So here’s what happened today:

  • Our house was filled with vibrant beautiful young women who are all supercharged about the culture they are a part of, and I got to share that passion too.
  • Coloured wigs, doll like make up, laughter, giggles.
  • The washing got done to blaring music and KPop!
  • I had a moment where I thought, “Wow, I am surrounded by this quirky sense of beauty and it’s so gorgeous!”
  • We ate lots of chocolate. It was fantastic.
  • I filmed some really cool interviews and I learnt so much about Japanese fashion and anime!
  • I got to be creative and craft the stories we tell. Super awesome.
  • I cuddled my husband. I breathed him in and looked into his chocolate brown eyes and felt deliriously happy and content. I am so in love with this man.
  • We planned a trip to Japan around our massive wooden kitchen table. We told lots of crazy stories of our previous travels and now we are going with a huge group! Super excited!
  • I drank copious cups of hot sweet tea. I remembered to breath and smell the tea and be in the moment. It helped me to focus my mind and calm myself.
  • We played Japanese card games late into the night and I won my first ever game! Elated! I felt invincible!

When everyone got up to leave, I was stunned that it was nearly 9.00pm! Wow! Where had the day gone? At some point, my head had completely cleared and although I was tired I felt really happy. I had spent the day doing what I loved. With people I really loved being with. I felt awesome. Empowered. Happy. Changing my mindset and focusing on being mindfulI in the morning, meant that I was now feeling lusciously connected to every moment throughout the day.

It’s true that it wasn’t straight forward. Apparently, my mind is a wild little beast that keeps running away with the wolves, so it takes some effort to pull her back to the moment I am in. To stop and breathe. To feel the pleasure of being me in this life.

But I figure that this is like any other new thing I want to learn. It’s like any other new behaviour or skill. So I am committing to practicing mindfulness for the next 30 days.

That’s it. Just 30 days. Every day.

Of being aware of my mindset.

Of being mindful.

Of creating a pleasure state.

Of taking the time to be me.

“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”
― E.E. Cummings

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Be still my wandering mind

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DAY 45

14th February, 2014

I pulled into the car park, switched off the ignition and reached across for my bag on the passenger sitting seat beside me. It was 7.00am and I had just arrived at work. I definitely needed a coffee. A skinny latte with two sugars to be exact. I walked across to the little cafe that sits underneath our office building. Jaz, the owner smiled at me as I walked through the door and started to make my usual. I leant against the counter and fished out my phone, checking my face book feed for anyone I knew who may be awake already. Jaz and I swapped money for coffee in a well rehearsed dance. “Have a lovely day!” we both said in unison, as I wandered out the door balancing my coffee and overstuffed work bags.

It wasn’t until I swiped my security card at the front door that I realised what I had done.

As I wandered through the office, turning on the lights, the photocopier, my computer, the kettle and the air conditioner, I wondered how it was at all possible that I had driven for over 45 minutes in semi-peak hour, without thinking. I literally could not remember how I got to work, and I remembered nothing about the trip, until I had pulled into my car park across form Jaz’s cafe.

Of course it wasn’t the first time I had been functioning on automatic pilot. There have been many times I have driven somewhere and not remembered the trip. Or other activities where I can barely remember what I did or what I may have said. Taking a shower in the morning, had somehow  become an opportunity to go through my ‘to do’ list for the day ahead. I barely felt the water, and often forgot if I had shampooed my hair twice, or even put the conditioner in. Talking with my husband, and catching myself midway through the conversation having no idea what he just said ~ my mind had drifted off to some other random thought! I need to finish the washing. I’d better get the dishes stacked in the dish washer. Oh, I forgot to message my sister back about her son’s wedding…the list goes on.

I used to think that I just needed to get better at multitasking, but it turns out that that’s not quite the way to go. Multitasking, once the jewel in our professional skill set, is just a way of doing a ridiculous number of tasks at the same time, and none of them very well.

The recent research on mindfulness, has uncovered that it is much better to focus on one task at a time, and do each task well. Interestingly, this is better for not only our frazzled minds trying to squeeze as many thoughts per second into our heads, it is also much better for our physical health, and surprisingly has a direct impact on the length of our lives.

Dr Craig Hassed, from the Department of General Practitioners, and a leading researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, speaks at length about the importance of mindfulness on our physical health and the impact on reducing ageing, and the risk of major disease and illness, such as heart disease. It’s worth checking out his work, because frankly there is no way in hell I could explain his, or his fellow researchers, amazing work. There’s much about the structure of our DNA and cells…and I’m not that kind of cool scientific girl.

However, the fact that mindfulness assist us to live happier and healthier lives, well, I’m on board with that. How could you not be?

One of the most simple activities you can integrate into your life is To be present in the moment that you are in. Focus on your breathing. Talk yourself through it if your mind keeps wandering off. “Breath in, now I am breathing in. Breathe out, now I am breathing out.” Feel your breath into your body and focus on what it feels like for your breath to exit your body. Connect your body to your breathing as you go, and feel the present moment. If you are in the shower, think about the water. Say to yourself, “Feel the water, focus on the water. Feel how amazing this hot water feels on my body.” As you wash yourself, focus on the smell of the soap, the way it lathers up between your hands. How soft does it feel on your skin? As you wash your hair, focus on the way the shampoo feels, the smell, the warmth of the water. If you find it difficult to stop your mind from wandering off, then talk yourself through the activity you want to be resent for. Feel the towel you wrap around your body as you step out of the shower or the bath. Feel the cool air on your skin. As you eat breakfast, focus on the food you are putting into your mouth. How good does it taste? How warm is your morning cup of coffee or how much does your fresh juice make your taste buds sing? Savour the moment you are in. Be present in your life.

Another way to re-train your wandering mind is through a mindfulness meditation exercise. This helps you to begin to use your mind in a different way and to again focus one thing at a time. It also helps us to focus on the things that are the most useful and helpful in our lives. There are a number of mindful meditation courses offered in community centre or on line that you can google.

However here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than you need to get up so you have 15 minutes to focus on your breathing. Give yourself permission to lie in bed for 15 minutes and breathe. Remember to talk yourself through breathing in and out if you find your mind wandering off.
  • Make a promise to yourself to be present for the people who move in and out of your world through your day. Remember to look them in the eye. Focus on what they are saying to you. Suspend your own thoughts and answers and truly listen to what the other person is saying. Repeat back to them what they have said so you are sure that you are listening correctly.
  • Experience your life as it is happening. We often only truly experience things when they are special events, such as a wedding, a birthday, a public speaking presentation. We focus because we don’t want to miss anything, or we are anxious about what we are about to do, so our mind becomes hyper vigilant and you can feel every cell in your body as if they are all focussed and standing to attention! So much can occur in our daily life that is just as extraordinary, beautiful and important, but we miss it. We forget to stop and savour the moment that we are in because we have already sprinted ahead to the next item on our list. Stop! Breathe! Savour the moment. Feel that breeze on your face. Listen to the church bells. Smell the ocean on the sea breeze. Feel the warmth of the fire and the love of your partner as you snuggle together on the couch. Feel the exquisite sensation of the ocean on your skin as you take swim in the heat of a late summer afternoon.
  • Taste the food that you eat. Savour every mouth full. Imagine the work and effort that has gone into growing the food and preparing the food before you. Imagine the creativity that has gone into cooking the meal that you are eating. Breathe in the care and the love. Be grateful for the effort that someone else has gone to so that you can eat this meal right now. Be grateful that this food has been grown in the first place, and thankful that you can nourish your body with this amazing produce.
  • Imagine that you are feeding each little cell in your body, caring for them, so they can care for you. Remember that your cells, every single one of them responds to how you feel, not just the food you provide. If you feel stressed, they all feel stressed too. If you are angry or unhappy, they are angry or unhappy too. They only care about you, a bit like your own personal entourage! Make sure that you tell them that you love them. Breathe and focus on each and every cell in your body and let them know how beautiful they are!
  • Be present for every activity in your day. Feel your feet on the floor, or the grass. Breathe. Focus on how you feel when you brush your hair. Breathe. When you shake hands with someone. When you read a story book to a child. When you type up an email. When you kiss your partner. Breathe. Focus. Be completely present and mindful of your life.
  • At the end of the day, before you go to sleep, focus on your breathing again. Let the thoughts and stresses of the day go, and focus on your breath, paying particular attention to how your breath feels as you breathe in and out.

Finally, being more mindful is about improving your concentration, your mental health and your wellbeing. It’s also about physically improving your health and increasing your life expectancy. More than anything it’s about becoming present and experiencing the moment of time that you are actually in, LIVING your life and enjoying it!

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
― Mae West

Ten simple ways to make today the best day ever!

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Sometimes death (or in this instance the thought of death) can bring out the best in you.

When you are faced with your own mortality and the possibility that your time on earth is coming to a screeching halt, you are forced to focus on what really matters. What is really important in your life? You are kicked off the couch that you have been lounging back on for the past 20 years, and woken up with a few slaps across the head.

If you knew that today was your last 24 hours on earth, how would you spend it? In bed eating chocolate? Telling all of your friends what you really think about them? Giving something back to people who are struggling?

Here’s some ideas for that perfect last day:

1. Wake up early!

You have very few hours left…why are you wasting them in bed?

Get up and go for a walk. Take your dog! Greet the new day. How awesome is that morning sky? Breathe in some fresh air. Say hello to all of that cafe owner who is setting up early. Check out your amazing neighbourhood. If walking isn’t safe or just not physically possible, then get up and sit on your balcony or in your back yard. You can still be grateful for the day and take in the beautiful world around you.

2. Drown your cells in goodness!

Eat a damned good breakfast. Feed your body the nutrients that it is craving for. Make an sexy red juice, with carrots, apple, lemon, a fresh beetroot and a slice of fresh ginger! YUM! Or mix up some free range eggs and gluten free toast…layer up some parsley and throw in some fresh baby spinach. Remember to savour every bite.

3. Be grateful!

While you are eating breakfast, write down 5 things in your life that you are grateful for today. Perhaps it’s the home you live in, or your pet cat who wakes you up purring every morning. Maybe you are grateful for your a particular friend who always knows the right thing to say…It can be anything.

When you have finished put the list on your fridge door, or fold it up and pop it in your wallet, so you can look at it throughout the day, and add to the list.

4. Be determined to see the good!

Today you will seek out the goodness in the people and the universe around you. Be on the watch for kindness. Wait for beautiful moments. Hear the gentle and friendly words people say to each other. Notice the way people go out of their way to help and to contribute to the world around them. Believe me, you may be surprised how much good stuff has been bubbling away every day, under your very nose! Remember: We see what we want to see. So today, consciously choose to see the good!

5. Take a risk!

I’m not talking about walking across the Grand Canyon on a tight rope. Just a small risk at first. Really, what do you have to lose? It’s your last day…so go and speak to that person that you have always wanted to say hello to. Dance with your love in the supermarket. Better yet, buy them a big bunch of flowers and kiss them in the street! (Wild right?) Sing some songs for loose change on a city street corner. Give that public speaking gig a go. Join that one day art class, or meditation class, or tap class. Jump on a plane and take a mystery ride to another city. Perhaps you could write that letter to your local MP (Minister of parliament) about the issue that you are most passionate about. Learn how to say hello in Spanish and then test it out at the local Spanish cafe. Write down 5 small actions that you are a little scared of trying…then call up a friend and do them all together, one after the other.

6. Be your own news crew!

Document everything that you do today by filming or photographing yourself. Get other people to take photos of you. At the end of the day, you can look back at what you have achieved.

7. Take a break and eat some more!

This time take yourself somewhere special. It could be your favourite cafe or restaurant. Perhaps you have a friend or a family member who cooks up a storm. Maybe this is the time to have ‘high tea’ at a fancy hotel. You could dress up and invite a friend to take tea with you. Or perhaps its time to buy some really good Italian bread and yummy cheese, and have a picnic on your lounge room floor with a glass of wine and a good book. Remember to love your body and feed yourself well. Savour every bite and think about nourishing the hundreds of tiny cells that make up YOU.

8. Do something good that is out of the box!

This could be a game changer or it could be a small gesture. Go out of your way to make a difference in someone’s life. Instead of thinking that ‘somebody’ should do something to help that person, why don’t you do it? Why can’t you be the hero for the day? Or ‘pay it forward’?

9. Love someone. 

Now you may not have a partner or a love interest. This could be someone who is a friend or a family member. Most of us have someone we love in our lives. What would you want them to know if you only had a hand full of hours left? Tell them that you love them. Hug them. Kiss them. If you can’t physically see them, then pick up the phone or have a Skype session. Perhaps you could write a letter, or and email. Or make a beautiful card and leave them with a message about how much they impact on your life. Make sure that the people in your life know that they mean the world to you and you love them with all of your heart. Remember that they can’t read your mind. People need to be told. Besides its good for your soul as well as theirs.

10. Love yourself!

How odd that this is often one of the most difficult things to do. We are usually very practiced at not liking ourselves much at all. Most of us are very quick to point out what’s wrong. Our nose is too long, our thighs too fat, we have pimples, or frizzy hair, or we’re too skinny. Today do something different. Today take a good long look at yourself in the mirror and instead of focussing on what you hate, only see the good. If you are really struggling, perhaps you can treat it like a bit of a game. Find three things that are cute about your body. Maybe that’s your smile? Now find two things that are strong. Perhaps you have great calf muscles from walking? Now find one lovely thing that not many other people have. Now look at yourself and tell yourself out loud what makes you a beautiful person. How do you contribute in this world. Are you kind? Do you try to help people?  You don’t need to be perfect to be loved. In fact all of us are imperfect by our very nature. But we are still worthy of being loved, particularly by ourselves. Life is way to short to waste time hating ourselves!

At the end of the day…

So when you crawl into your bed at the end of today, think back on all that you have done, created or experienced. Of course it’s not your last day on earth today. You should have another 24 hours tomorrow. But how much more of an extraordinary life will you live if you experience every minute with all of the joy and energy you can muster? With an innate sense of scarcity and urgency. Your life may not be ending, but it’s true that you will never have this moment, or this day again. How wonderful to live a life that invests in every moment and every day knowing that it is a precious, once in a life time opportunity.

Truly then, you will live every day as if it’s the best day ever!

‘Wake at dawn with a winged heart, and give thanks for another day of loving.’ – Khalil Gibran

Meeting strangers in the shadows

DAY THREE

3rd January 2014

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Three days in and I have already stumbled across an awkward fact: I have been living a sort of half life, barely breathing and for the most part in the shadows.

Following my enlightening day yesterday with Fred, I resolved this morning to be present with every person I met today. My plan was to focus, breathe and where appropriate, smile, when I met someone.

It turns out that it is rarely inappropriate to smile at someone. Or so I found today. Perhaps if I was hanging around a funeral home it might not be the most socially acceptable behaviour to trot around between the viewing parlours with a huge smile on my face.

But today, I found that looking people in the eye and smiling genuinely led to more unexpected outcomes. The genuine bit is important. People can smell fake a mile away. If you are genuine, people feel your energy and warmth through your body language.

Today it occurred to me that I have been missing something pretty significant in the way I live. I seem to work through my day, ticking off the boxes and rushing from one thing to another. It’s rare that I stop and savour the day. By that I mean, savour everything that happens in my day: the people, the food, the joy of actually living and breathing. It’s more of the ‘being present’ stuff, but today I endeavoured to step it up a little. Today I wanted to really see the people around me. And I have to say that I was pretty surprised at what I haven’t been seeing.

I am surrounded by interesting and amazing people! Seriously! I suspect I have been all along – they didn’t just pop up around me today. By the end of the day I received some solid financial advice, had some heartfelt conversations, was told that I am part of the nicest group of people in the community (this by a man who I didn’t think knew our names), had a few smiles back, a friend cry on my shoulder, was given a free coffee, and was hugged…quite a bit actually. It was a busy day. It was also a day full of wonder and moments that I am seriously grateful for.

All I have done is stop and think that if this person was dead before midnight, then I want to make the most of the time I have with them. Sometimes this can only be a fragile few minutes. Sometimes it’s hours. Today I even had a text message. My intention is the same whether I am with a friend, a colleague or a complete stranger. I’m finding myself stopping and considering my responses more carefully. I’m looking for opportunities to make the other persons experience, even if it is just for a few minutes, something special. Something meaningful.

Today I did this with a smile, and it led to some unexpected and beautiful moments. It also led to some unexpected realisations. If this is what happens when you live in the present, what exactly have I been doing all this time? And what exactly is possible in this life. After all, I have only been living like this for three days.

I also have to laugh at my naivety on day one, thinking I would need some strict boundaries to protect myself. The truth is that the more I try to give the more I am learning about my own life and the more I seem to be getting back.

As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Being present for Fred

DAY TWO

Thursday 2nd January 2014

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Fred is a burley big red head of a man. He’s one of those older blokes who looks like he doesn’t have very much in the world. But he always seems to arrive at our offices with a smile and is always happy to have a bit of a natter before he heads off back into the day.

Fred is the internal courier for the organisation I work for. He usually rocks up around 11.00 am to deliver the mail and pick up anything we need delivered to another department or sent out through the mail room.

Everyone in our team will always try to make sure that Fred is welcomed and taken care of. It’s part of our team culture to look after our relationships. So today it wasn’t really too hard to get up from my desk to say hello to Fred when he arrived and have a little chat.

What was surprisingly hard was that I had to think differently. What if I knew Fred would be dead by midnight tonight and this was the last time I would see him? Now I hardly know Fred, but I have to say I felt a bit sick. It’s not a pleasant thought, even though the intention is to change lives.

So, before I started welling up and Fred thought I’d perhaps had a few too many on New Years Day, I took a breath and focussed on him. I focussed just on him and the conversation we were having, and let the hum of the office fall away. And at the same time I smiled at him. That’s all I did.

We spoke about old James Bond movies and a little about the fireworks. And for the first time I realised that Fred lives alone, and that he had spent New Years by himself; which is normally how he spends New Years. As I said, I don’t know Fred very well, but I have been saying hello to Fred almost every morning for the past three and a half years. I had no idea he lived alone. We had a giggle about the James Bond girls, then I gave him a kiss on the cheek for New Years before Fred left to get back to his busy schedule.

I don’t know if I made much of a difference for Fred, but I walked away with an odd thought. If Fred was to die tonight I would feel so much better about myself. Well that was unexpected. Wasn’t this supposed to be about Fred? But here I was feeling better about the type of person I am. Just because I stopped and really spoke with him, without thinking I needed to get back to the pile of tasks on my desk. All because I felt like I was present for once. Present for Fred.

Being Present

There has been much written and spoken about ‘being present’, so you can google the topic and investigate more if you haven’t heard the term before. There are many ways you can be present, and plenty of tips on living a present life – or a life in the here and now. But here’s what I do. I breathe.

Breathe.

Focus on your breath. Breathe in and breathe out. You don’t need to lie down on a yoga mat and meditate for an hour. Just breathe. Breathing helps you to connect to your body, which in turn helps you to be mindful, and mindfulness means you place yourself truly in the present. Right here and right now. Not focussed on what has happened in the past, or what might be about to happen in the future. Just being here in this moment.

If I’m finding it particularly tricky to focus on my breathing, I literally tell myself to breathe in and breathe out. One of my favourite experts on mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, a much respected Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, poet and peace activist, and author of The Miracle of Mindfulness, also suggests saying to yourself, “Breathing in. I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out. I know that I am breathing out.”

I have heard many times that when you are truly present in the here and now, you are connected to life and all it has to offer. It is the one moment you can control or influence. It is also the one moment you can be grateful for and really enjoy. Chatting with Fred today, breathing, focussed, present, wasn’t hard work. It was pretty simple really – and it had a really simple but unexpected outcome: I liked myself a bit more.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The real miracle is not to fly or walk on water. It’s simply to walk on this earth. Bring your mind home to your body and become alive.”