Tag Archives: mindfullness

Seven Year Anniversary

I received this notice today that seven years ago I registered this blog on WordPress. SEVEN years. Wow. How much have I learned since that day? How much more do I still have to learn, might be the better question, lol! Seven years ago, January 2010. Wow, what a mess. I was the epitome of the southern mantra: ‘fake it till you make it.’ I was sleep-walking through life with an often-sick baby and an 8 year old solo. My husband and I separated October of 2009, but honestly, he had been flying back and forth to Europe since our baby was 5 months old and gone 2 weeks a month anyway. He had been gone long before his physical, permanent presence. I was just catching up to that fact. And, I was trying as hard as I could to not fall apart or fall into despair and bitterness. I found out in October of 2009 he had a double life and a girlfriend in Europe who had been traveling with him to exotic locales across the globe while I was at home with a colicky baby and another son to raise. Enter months of therapy and going back and forth between trying to stay married and rediscovering he still had this girlfriend when he was away—I landed smack into the realization that I was a door mat and just kept clicking a rewind button that propelled me into yet another betrayal heartbreak moment. After three of those events that landed me at 90 pounds and barely functional, our therapist demanded that my ex finally stop swinging between two women and ‘killing’ me. So he left Dec. 26, 2009, after a pretend family Christmas with a lot of phone calls from the girlfriend. Because I’ve been a journalist since I was 18, and writing has always helped me find clarity, I started this blog. But I didn’t actually post a public post until much later. My first post was when my youngest was 2, so I had been a FT single mom for over a year with maybe three weeks off. The post wasn’t very personal, as perhaps I was afraid to BE personal during the middle of a divorce, but it was accurate. It was about mental fatigue and inspired by a New York Times article. I re-read it today and it’s still very current for me. Here it is: BrainDrain.

Seven years later, I still have many moments of brain drain. I needed to re-read the advice list in this old post, as I still do not follow all of it. Brain drain is very real for single parents, as it stems from making too many decisions. Do any of you feel it? I notice that being the sole care-taker and the sole-decision maker for two humans without a break, is exhausting. EVEN when I teach yoga and do yoga. EVEN when I get a good night’s sleep. Things slip. EVEN when I input as many items into my calendar as possible, emergencies pop up and I’m the only one to handle them. (sickness, someone forgetting their lunch, a game getting cancelled, so I have to leave work early to pick up…)

And don’t get me started on dating. The woman who has her kids full time is treated very differently by men. EVEN by the men who fall in love. Yes, even them. They run away or try to completely control me and change me or my parenting style.  (Example of disrespecting family time with the boys, by calling during dinner, or before bedtime and trying to get me to leave them home alone, yet again, to come over at the last minute.) Some are just not for me, they party too much, drink too much and are not good for my boys, so I don’t go out with them. And some don’t want the ‘responsibility’ that dating someone like me seems to imply, so they try to get me open to booty calls, friends with benefits kind of deal so there’s no obligation or need to truly try to connect. I walk away.  Or they don’t want to compete for my limited amount of time, as the ones I’ve known want me, and only me, and nothing to do with the children. It’s exhausting. I’ve finally stopped trying. I’ve stopped dating altogether. I’m focussed on my yoga, writing my next book and my boys. My boys have only met one man in seven years and that was after we were very serious. My boys come first. They are not a liability. They are the best people I know and I adore them. They have probably saved me from disastrous men. Anyone who would be a bad influence on them, is a no bueno for me. So, dating is easier and harder post divorce. It’s easier because the boys come first and I can quickly see who isn’t a good fit. It gets harder because I just don’t have the time or resources to hire sitters and go out on many blind dates. I’m opting out for now. And that’s okay.

So when a friend, who has only been separated one year, asked me this question a few weeks ago: “When does it get easier?” I didn’t know how to respond. Here’s my attempt:

It gets easier and it gets harder.

It gets easier when the love you had for your ex mutates into a distant brotherly kind of love created out of forgiveness and a willingness to move forward with friendship and gratitude for what is working in whatever type of co-parenting role that evolves.

It gets easier when you start to get to know yourself better and start to explore exactly what interests you. (This is especially true for those givers who try and try to be what their partner wants for years.) So now I unapologetically follow my heart: my yoga, meditation classes, my writing, my photography, my love for music and traveling the way I want to with no need to justify why I’m just not the party girl who loves Vegas, you know? I’m the gal who went to Peru & Spain & Italy & Prague solo. I hiked. I went to ballets, I went to museums, I toured, I lived on a rooftop for a week. I camped. I wrote. I did yoga. That’s more my speed.

It gets easier when you learn to respect yourself and your needs. But this is where it can get harder for the full-time, sole custody parents too. Once you realize your needs, your wants, trying to find acceptance in not getting them met on a weekly basis, is a challenge. With only 4 weeks off a year, every weekend I can fall into a pity-party if I don’t do something for myself. So, I find strategies to give back to me, like hiring a sitter so I can veg and write or go for a run, or get a drink with a friend…I also plan vacations for the few weeks off I get each year. Even if I decide to take them solo, I always meet amazing people on tours and I’m blessed to do exactly what it is I want to do and explore on holiday.

It gets easier when you begin to trust your inner voice, your inner guide, your abilities. I now know that I can juggle parenting, finances, dinners & my work & vacation planning & all that life throws at me while raising two kiddos solo. It’s not easy, but when married, I doubted just about all of my abilities. Now I have more confidence.

It’s gets easier because I’m too busy to engage in drama. I just don’t have time or interest in anything that doesn’t lift another person up. It’s that simple. Anyone who is rude to a waiter, yells at or about another human being, lies, cheats, constantly points out the negative in others, gets hysterical and rants, abuses substances,  etc.  is just not what I want to engage into my life. Of course, drama happens, even within our closest circles, so I try to be kind to myself when it happens, detach, pause, reflect first before responding and then connect to Source for guidance in what I need.

It gets easier because I now value my time more and have learned to set boundaries. Givers attract takers. It’s a universal law. So all the requests of my time, when I’m already drained, are no longer a struggle for me. I only have so much to give. If I don’t give to myself, I’m not valuing myself. I no longer feel the need to give or be there for everyone who calls hysterically or ‘needs’ me instantly. I have to take care of myself, and I still don’t always do it. I’m a work in progress. I work too hard. I do too much. I don’t always remember to eat or take my vitamins, for instance. I have no business trying to help everyone else if the oxygen mask isn’t on me first. So, I’ve learned a lot about how I used to be too giving. Too forgiving. Too easily swayed to volunteer or give more of my time than was good for my health. I’m trying to strike a balance now.

So I’ll end with this final thought for my friend venturing into divorce. Having the rug pulled out from under you with a sudden separation or betrayal may land you on your ass, that’s for sure, but it’s a position with nothing left to lose. You can only look up from there, right? Why not write that novel? Why bother with someone negative or controlling? Why not hike Machu Picchu? It’s also a spot where it becomes easier to let go of expectations and to challenge yourself to become a better you: more mindful, more present, more patient, more joyful, more playful, ever-evolving.  And that’s something to celebrate.

As always, thanks for reading my meandering prose.

With gratitude,

Laura

 

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Finding the Sweet Space of Between

Photo by Chloe Moore Photography

Photo by Chloe Moore Photography

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to take a pregnant pause. That, and the reality of the gap between our thoughts and our actions. As a yogi, I’ve been told time and time again to detach and become a nonjudgemental observer of my life, especially as I meditate. Worded like that, it seems like something that must be done, or achieved—like a goal to work toward. But what if there is a literal space in our lives that just can’t be lived, pushed or achieved? What if there is a space that is just felt by sitting still and sensing what is—without doing anything? In this neutral space, one shuts down, surrenders, accepts, during a mini time-out from life.

As a little girl, every summer, (before Interstate 40 was completed) my family would drive through podunk, one stop-light towns in North Carolina, heading East to the beach. These tiny communities fascinated me. I’d hold my breath the whole ride through towns like Spivey’s Corner, the “hollerin’ capital of the universe,” and, of course, the town of ‘Between.’ As a shy little girl, no one in my large family even noticed me in the back seat holding my breath—my cheeks red, my neck strained. I liked the idea of time standing still—of holding my breath and emptying all my thoughts as I entered a space that began with a welcome sign, followed by a stop light and ended with a sign that usually said, “Ya’ll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?”. It was a kick to think that within one breath, one blink, one pregnant pause, I could then exhale and arrive at a new destination, a new town.

I was quite literally in a state of between. No other thoughts entered my mind. I didn’t worry about my big brother and one of my big sisters fighting. I didn’t think about my dad yelling at one of us, or my mom crying out in a nervous voice, “Please…Stop!” Nope. I just sank into a void of silence until I arrived into a new town where I exhaled and entered back into the chaos that was four kids in the back of a station wagon on a road trip.

John Green wrote about this space of between more eloquently in his book “An Abundance of Katherine’s.” The best-selling author of “The Fault in Our Stars” caught my attention in his lesser known book, as it ends with his neurotic protagonist, a prodigy teenager who keeps re-examining past relationships in order to predict future relationships, on an eye-opening road trip. His genius level IQ, married with expectations of grandeur and “mattering,” have Colin obsessed with playing God: predicting the future. He rarely, hangs out. He doesn’t stop working. He is possessed with creating a theorem that will prove he is important. At the end of the novel, Colin finally concedes the future is an unknown destination…one to be explored like a long road trip filled with surprises:

“As the staggered lines rushed past him, he thought about the space between what we remember and what happened, the space between what we predict and what will happen. And in that space, Colin thought, there was room enough to reinvent himself—room enough to make himself—room enough to make himself into something other than a prodigy, to remake his story better and different—room enough to be reborn again and again.”

I believe that to be reborn again and again, it requires more than just an awareness of a state of between. It requires marinating briefly in that space of acceptance to allow a much-needed pause from our lives. The space between, for me, is a mental time out into complete surrender of life as it is now—and of acceptance for me, just as I am, now. It’s a break within the mind between expectations and longings. It mandates that nothing is done, nothing is feared, nothing is forced, nothing is judged.

Who am I today? Who were you yesterday? Can you sit in the here and now and not try to edit the past or force a future outcome? Can you find an exquisite sort of beauty in lingering in a space where there are no answers, but rather a space of just being?

Take a mini vacation from all the chatter and when you arrive back at home in your body, see what comes to you. Who is drawn to you? What do you dream? What do you feel? We all rush around so much with minds struggling to catch up and thoughts that race. I’m guilty of that too…But just think: in one breath, one pause, we might just arrive into a new town, into a new vista, into new insights, into clarity, into knowing who we are and what we want.

I’m starting to feel that we are part of a cosmos that is intricate, yet delicate— powerful, yet tender…but only if we slow down enough to sense it, or sense ourselves within it.

And while I’m new at this, I think the end result is filled with sweet surprises. Surprises like: meeting new friends who feel instantly like family. Coincidences. Serendipitous encounters. Creative insights. Laughter. Lightness. And ultimately, hopefully, a life that flows.

 

As David Ji, my favorite meditation expert, would say: “See you in the Gap.”

Multi-tasking + Stress = American Way

mindfulnessbell

Is Mindfulness Realistic?

Is a mindful way of life actually possible for most of us—especially those in the business world? Can we really achieve mindfulness in today’s American society? Think about it. We are obsessed with multi-tasking and our devices that let us ‘stay on’ 24/7. On top of that, we keep pilling more onto our schedules (since, of course, we can handle more at one time now). Combine that with extra pressure and longer hours at work (See ABC News’ “Americans Work More Than Anyone”) and more stress with shortened fuses on the road and there you have it: a cocktail that completely erodes your 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation. Or so it would seem to me.

But maybe I’ve got it all wrong? I’d love some input from any of you out there as I’m at a complete loss. Unless I’m in the jungle (where I found myself a week ago!) or on an island without wifi and electricity, I doubt that I can stop my multi-tasking addiction—and I’m just a mere freelance writer and mom. How the hell do executives learn how to put the devices down and connect fully with loved ones when the work day just never seems to end?

I must admit that I’m a bit surprised by my skepticism as I’m the perfect candidate and proponent for mindfulness. I’m a yoga enthusiast and Deepak Chopra lover. Yet, I look around me—especially when at a business conference or with other journalists on deadline—and I wonder HOW can we be more mindful when stretched to the limits with multiple demands—sometimes needing to be met simultaneously.

A few months ago, I interviewed Janice Marturano, founder of The Institute for Mindful Leadership, who left the corporate world behind in order to consult executives on how to become more mindful. In our interview entitled “If Mindfulness can Transform CEOS … Imagine How It Can Help You?!” Janice explained how she works with executives and managers to help them slow down and focus on what’s in front of them. She does this through teaching them how to meditate, ideally, 3 times a day. At the time of our interview, after also seeing how much she helped my brother, I was a huge supporter. I still am a huge supporter of what she is doing. Now that my toes are back in the business world, however, I’m getting a taste of the stress and the “pressure to be on” and I see how hard it is to be mindful in this environment. If you’ve ever been to a board meeting or in the audience of a keynote speaker at a conference, than I don’t need to tell you about the hundreds of blackberries and iphones in the laps of attendees who are multi-tasking by texting, emailing, or reading assignments. CEOs of the household are just as easily distracted. Go to a park or library, and likely you’ll see a mom or dad glued to his/her iphone while the kiddos are on their own. Again, it’s the American Way.

And I write this with a bit of irony. I’ve been away from NavigatingVita for a month. During that time, I’ve juggled business writing and children’s schedules and illnesses—while stressing out about both. Somehow I managed to catapult myself away for a week to the southern most jungle of Costa Rica. While there, even though I had access to wifi at a main eco-lodge, I decided to cut the phone off. I left instructions to call a friend if there was an emergency with the kiddos and decided to brave being on my own without emails, texts, calls. (I was only away for a week, I could handle it right?.) At first, when watching some friends upload pictures on Facebook, or get basketball scores during our communal dinners at the lodge with wifi, I got a twinge of jealousy. After a few days of device detox, however, I found myself more engaged in my world than I have been in a long time. I held my attention and listened deeply when others talked. I looked around me—all the time.  Of course, being in the jungle, demands mindful attention to avoid scorpions, lizards or crabs on your path. But when I looked up, I’d sometimes see monkeys swinging, blue butterflies, parrots, wild orchids and iguanas in the trees. I found myself looking around with wonder. I no longer wanted to check email or basketball scores. Twice during the week, I went back up to the eco-lodge with wifi and called my boys via skype to check in. I never turned on my phone, I used a friend’s computer. That was my only “connection” with the outside world. I lived. I thrived. I thought I was cured of my addiction. How wrong I was.

Before I left for Costa Rica, I read two New York Times articles that I cut out to interview experts about for Navigating Vita. They touched a chord when reading them three weeks ago, and my time in the jungle re-inforced their importance. The first by Barbara L. Fredrickson is called Your Phone Vs. Your Heart. It shows, clearly, how children suffer from a lack of eye contact when parents are constantly looking at their phones and not paying attention. The second, is by Alina Tugend: In Mindfulness, a Method to Sharpen Focus and Open Minds, where Alina spends time with experts, including Janice Marturano, to learn how to meditate.

What I thought about both articles, before I left for Costa Rica, pales in comparison to what I’ve learned upon my return. In Costa Rica, an environment that encourages mindful awareness and making appointments with wifi locations to communicate, I let go of my phone addiction. Sure, I was on vacation, but even when I’m not working, I usually tend to over-check the phone. I embraced being in the moment and made a silent vow to write this blog post as one that showed my success at tackling this distracted addiction of mine that most in Americans share. Well, I came back with multiple stories due, meetings to attend, taxes, sick boys, etc. And I found that being back in my old environment with multiple demands, I instantly fell back to my old habits. Sure, I still tried to meditate every day, and managed to squeeze in yoga twice, but it didn’t stop me from texting or calling someone while in the car. I raced back and forth from appointments or kids school or sport functions—all the time clinging to my phone, in case as a client or colleague or even a friend needed to reach me. Just doing that, made me think about those possible needs, instead of listening to my children. I’d worry about an assignment and say, “Sure,” or “Ahuh” absently to something that my four-year-old said.

Who suffers from this sort of distraction? Me. And my boys. I remember when interviewing Janice, that she advised me to turn off my racing mind and actually enjoy the moment—whatever moment—I found myself in. So instead of bringing my business meeting into my shower or my car ride, I need to shut off, and enjoy the ride with the kiddos or the warm water of the shower. By not stressing about all the ins and outs, and being more present, we can all be more productive later. Think about the manager who actually cuts off the phone and listens intently during a meeting, verses the manager who keeps looking at his blackberry or the clock when you’re talking.

I get it. I’m just not living it during times of pressure. Maybe there’s an app for that? 🙂 I know … But seriously. Maybe during my most hectic points of the day, I could set a mindfulness alarm on my phone. “Time to be mindful, Laura” could go off when I’m typically in the car with my boys, for instance.  Or maybe: “This is your mindfulness moment. Turn off the phone” could go off just before dinner, bath and books time in the evening, so I can give my boys my undivided attention.

Just an idea. Have any others? Clearly, I could use the help!

Sprouting Anew

I’ve always been obsessed with trees. They have a spiritual connection for me that I can’t really explain. As a little girl, I used to walk through the horse trails on the farm and then just sit beneath the pine trees, under their canopy, and listen to the wind, wait for deer to appear, and feel safe. I painted pine trees when I was older too, and love looking up into the sky beneath the canopy of leaves of any sort.  I even meditate often with the imagery of a tree in mind. I breathe in all the ego-driven fears I’m wrestling with such as feelings of anger, anxiety, jealousy, pity, etc. and imagine breathing them up from my roots of my being and having them lift up through my body and out of my head into the lightness. I exhale it there for the universe to take care of. When I breathe in, I inhale lightness, joy and peace and let it flow like lightning through my limbs, my core, and down to my toes to land into the earth where I’m planted—where I can utilize it again when necessary. I do this for five minutes, or try to! It’s hard to be still isn’t it? (I highly recommend trying this exercise for a week to see if it helps you with any anxiety.)

Well, when one of my sisters sent me this message last week, I had to save it. I love the imagery and adore our California Redwoods. It’s perfect for those of us going through a divorce who may be wrestling with sprouting anew. I hope this brings some inspiration your way! Thanks Sarah!

“Coastal redwoods are the planet’s most enduring lifework. A fallen coastal redwood will sprout anew within three weeks. Small trees can endure more than 400 years beneath a closed forest canopy without losing their ability to grow rapidly if and when that canopy is opened.

We can be like that, too. No matter how painful our life may have been, we always have the internal resources to heal and grow into happiness. We now have the strength, insight, and spiritual tools. This combination teaches us that there is no unhappiness too great to be made better. Opening ourselves up to the miracles of recovery, we step from the dark of negativity into the light of possibility and abundance. It doesn’t happen all at once, but it does happen – one day at a time.”