covid19 · fitness · mindfulness · planning

What’s in a number? a lot and a little

These days, I’m living by the numbers. As of today’s writing, I am:

  • 80 consecutive days of meditation
  • 66 consecutive weeks of mediation
  • 189 workout days in 2021
  • 32 workout days away from my 221 number in 2021
  • 12 classes away from winter break
  • 184 days to go until my 2022 sabbatical
  • 150 days until my birthday…
  • at which time I turn 60– another big number

We live by the numbers, which are constantly changing.

Maybe one of those old-fashioned number displays, that makes a clacking sound as it changes. By Mick Hillier on Unsplash.
Maybe one of those old-fashioned number displays, the kind that make clacking sounds as the numbers change. By Mick Hillier on Unsplash.

Right now my life feels like a lot of sitting around, staring up at those number displays, waiting for them to flip and clack and change to reflect the next thing on my life itinerary, the next train I need to catch to whatever I’m supposed to be doing. If that’s true, then all I have to do is stand there patiently, and the new plan for me will soon roll over, clacking authoritatively.

Normally I’m too busy to stop, look around and assess where I am; I just hurry on to the next class, meeting, load of laundry, friend to see, or paper to grade. But this weekend is different. I’m at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health with my friend Norah. I’ve been here several times for yoga, cooking classes, extremely yummy vegetarian food and a woodsy break from regular life.

This time is different. The feel is different: there are fewer people (pandemic restrictions), fewer activities, and a more subdued atmosphere. In my yoga classes, I look around. People seem tired. Some of them are doing their own thing. Some are opting out and lying down, wrapped in blankets they brought with them. One woman near me was scrolling through her phone during a thread-the-needle exercise. I frowned in her direction, but in hindsight I feel sympathy. Electronics have been much of what we’ve known over the past 18 months; they’ve been our companions. I guess she felt the need to check in, even during a purported retreat weekend. I get it.

It’s hard to be in the now, live in the now, rather than impatiently checking whatever, looking to see when the next thing is. My numbers reflect my own impatience. I regularly google “how many days until May 10, 2022?” Google tells me. Thanks, Google.

I just tried googling “how many days until the pandemic ends?” Here’s what I saw:

Screenshot of results of "how many days until the pandemic ends? google query. It seems the McKinsey agency knows.
Screenshot of results of “how many days until the pandemic ends? google query. It seems the McKinsey agency knows.

McKinsey doesn’t know. I don’t know. No one knows. All we can do is either stand in that large open space, waiting for the clacky departure board to clack, or go about our business–life– until such time as clacking occurs.

This yoga weekend, away from regular life, is making it clearer to me that those X number of days before all those things are worth something in themselves. Doing something other than waiting.

Readers, how do you spent time when you have a big event or big change coming up? Are you waiting, planning, wondering, expecting? Do you pretend it’s not happening, distracting yourself? Do you go about your business? I’d love to hear what your strategies are.

ADHD · dogs · fitness · meditation · mindfulness · walking

Christine and Khalee Try Walking Meditation

Ok, full disclosure: *I* was doing a walking meditation.

Khalee was just walking and sniffing everything and deciding where to pee…which is being really in the moment, I guess so she’s got this mindfulness thing sorted already.

I usually set out for my walk with one earphone in, using my walking time to hear some cool podcast stories that I would forget to make time to listen to otherwise.

Today, though, my mind was busy and I didn’t think I could focus on a story. So, I decided to try a new walking meditation that I bought last week.

Image description: Khalee, a medium-sized, light-haired dog on a neon yellow leash is standing on an asphalt path and looking back toward the camera. Christine’s feet in black and​ white sneakers can be seen at the bottom of the photo.
At this point, Khalee was doing a ‘waiting for Christine’ meditation practice. She has to do that one a lot. Image description: Khalee, a medium-sized, light-haired dog on a neon yellow leash is standing on an asphalt path and looking back toward the camera. Christine’s feet in black and white sneakers can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

I’ve tried to do walking meditation before, figuring that the movement would help me focus, but I found it was the opposite. Trying to make myself think about how my feet were landing, over and over, was enough to make my brain want to crawl out of my skull.

(Note: I have only tried two walking meditations before and they were both really foot-focused. Perhaps that was an unfortunate coincidence and most aren’t like that.)

Last week, thanks to a tweet from someone with ADHD requesting ideas for meditation, I came across a walking meditation from Anna Granta, an ADHD Coach from the UK.

I figured that a meditation from an ADHD coach would be a bit more tailored to someone with ADHD, and I was right!

For starters, she has a great voice. Lots of meditation leaders have voices that grate on my nerves but Granta’s is sensible, even, and friendly.

The meditation is short – less than 5 minutes from start to finish, including instructions.

And it’s very practical – leading the listener to tune into what they could see, hear, smell, and feel while they walked.

And once it was done, I kept my podcast off for the rest of my walk, noticing the sounds, smells, and the details of the sights around me.

It was a short practice but it was really refreshing. And it would be easy to do in the future.*

I returned from my walking feeling like I had untangled a knot in my brain.

Neurotypical people or those with an established meditation practice might find this practice too short or too quick but my ADHD brain loved it. It was short enough to feel doable, long enough to calm down a bit, and clear and inviting enough that I could keep practicing even after the audio finished.

I’ll definitely be using this meditation in the future. Not for every walk, because sometimes hearing a story is exactly what I need in a given moment, but I love having it close at hand for when my brain needs to smooth out a bit.

Khalee’s walking meditation was also successful. She left the house untroubled, returned the same way, and just walked when she was walking and sniffed while she was sniffing. She’s a mindfulness expert, really.

Image description: Khalee, a medium-sized, light-haired dog on a neon yellow leash is walking away from the camera while she sniffs the ground. She is standing on some grass and there are large decorative rocks a bit further ahead. Part of an asphalt path can be seen on the right side of the photo.​
Here’s Khalee during the sniffing part of her meditation practice. Image description: Khalee, a medium-sized, light-haired dog on a neon yellow leash is walking away from the camera while she sniffs the ground. She is standing on some grass and there are large decorative rocks a bit further ahead. Part of an asphalt path can be seen on the right side of the photo.

*Her instructions are clear and now that I have followed it once, easily done on my own even without the recording. I will still go back to it, though, to help me ease into the process.

mindfulness · running

Running in My Head

Some days I run in my body. Some days I run in my head. It’s not a hard and fast separation, of course (body and mind are one). But, depending on the day, body or head dominates my run. The last couple of runs I’ve done have been in my head. My mind is busy writing a script and delivering its lines and it’s not until mid-run, or even post-run, when my mind notices that my body actually had a much better run than my mind was narrating.

Two examples.

On Sunday, I went out feeling unmotivated and more like watching Season 3 of the Danish television show Seaside Hotel. I reluctantly put on my running gear, laced my shoes, plugged into the audio book I’m listening to (Marshall Rosenberg’s Speaking Peace) and took off. The inner voices had a feisty script to deliver. Run a loop. Or not. If you feel like cutting off the top or bottom of the park, that’s fine too (that’s a thing in New York City’s Central Park, where there are clear options to take a mile off the top or bottom of the standard loop). Okay, I know said anything is fine and I meant it, but why not? So, I ran the whole loop, feeling neither super perky nor as draggy as I’d expected. At the 11th hour in my run, I ran past the last possible entrance to The Reservoir loop. That’s a dirt track around the reservoir in the middle of the park. As I ran past, a loud argument started up in my head. Girlfriend, you haven’t run that loop in ages. What’s wrong with you? Why are you being critical? She can run it when she feels like it. When’s that ever going to happen? Stop being so hard on her. She’ll do it when it feels good. And today is not that day. Whereupon, my body suddenly chimed in. Hold on, I do feel like running the reservoir loop. Do you really, or are you just saying that because you feel pressured? No. I don’t think so. Give me a moment. I’m checking in with the legs and feet. Yup. All parts are a go.  I turned around, ran back to the reservoir and did the loop. My body was tired yes, but also in high spirits when I got home. My head was slowly dragged from doubting to cautious pleasure.  

Second example. Yesterday, I woke up with a mild case of the post-Labour Day back-to-school blues, that feeling that everything should be starting fresh and yet it isn’t, those unaccountable blues that can’t just be ascribed to one particular thing. My body was not feeling springy. My spirit had even less loft. But I could see that it was a beautiful day and I couldn’t face a workout that involved a screen and being indoors. Again, I put on my running kit with unwilling resolve. Halfway up the first block from my apartment an argument broke out in my head.

I can’t do this. It’s boring. It’s too long. Oh for goodness’ sake, just get on with it. How about we compromise? Instead of the loop, let’s just run up to the north woods and do repeats on that short, sharp dirt hill. Okay, but I’m going to be slow. That’s fine. It doesn’t even matter. You can’t not get a good workout, no matter what speed you go. Plus, you get to be in the woods and on dirt. Fine. Just get on with it.

I ran. I repeated. I listened to my book. I got home feeling decent, if still bluesy. Then, I had breakfast with my partner and he asked how my run went. I told him what I’d done and he said, “And that didn’t feel good?” His question made me realize that my mind hadn’t caught up to my body yet. Because, yes, my body was happy with the run and my head hadn’t taken the time to note that fact.

Running in my head can be very noisy. Running in my body is quieter. The quiet doesn’t mean faster or stronger, as I used to think. It just means less blab-blab-blab. When I try to fight the blabs by telling them to be quiet, they just get louder. I am learning, ever so slowly, that taking my head and body where they are at and running with whichever one wants to take the lead on any particular day, is more easeful. Letting the voices roll, allowing them to caution, berate, encourage, argue and generally raise a ruckus is more fruitful than trying to quiet them. When I can resist the urge to pile on to their tirades, to spin myself into their vortices of whatever feels hot to them that day, when I can just be present to their narratives, give them a respectful listen as I run, I notice there’s a calming effect on their vociferous need to get as many words in edgewise as possible.

The most important practice when I’m running in my head is to be mindful of checking in with my body, because she may have a different story to tell. I want to listen to her, too. And I don’t want to miss an opportunity to express my gratitude to my body, for all her hard work and all the pleasure she has given me and continues to give me over our many miles together. 

health · mindfulness · motivation · self care

Christine is letting an app boss her around

I have been receiving the Action for Happiness newsletter for years. I usually read it at the beginning of the month, glance at the included calendar, and occasionally I refer back to it a few times over the following weeks.

Here’s the ‘Self-Care September’ calendar:

a multi-coloured Action for Happiness calendar with cartoon drawings of a clock, a person looking at photos, two people hugging, and a kettle, tea and cookies around the edges. This month's theme is 'Self-Care September' and each block of the calendar has a different prompt for self-care.
Image description: a multi-coloured Action for Happiness calendar with cartoon drawings of a clock, a person looking at photos, two people hugging, and a kettle, tea and cookies around the edges. This month’s theme is ‘Self-Care September’ and each block of the calendar has a different prompt for self-care. An accessible PDF is available here. Image source

This month, though, something made me give it a closer look and I finally noticed that Action for Happiness is on Instagram and that they have an app.

And even though I usually avoid letting apps send me notifications, I impulsively agreed to let them interrupt me. And I am really glad I did.

I am now on my third day of being bossed around by this app and I LOVE it.

It’s such a cool thing to get a reminder of one simple way to be kinder to myself today (I mean, that’s my kind (ha!) of thing anyway but it’s fun to get a prompt that I didn’t come up with.)

For example, here’s yesterday’s prompt:

Image Description: an embedded image from the Action for Happiness Instagram feed. There is a pink background and a simple drawing of a person with beard washing dishes in a sink. There are several dishes on the counter beside the sink. The caption says ‘Notice the things you do well, however small.’ The bottom right corner of the image appears to be folded back so there is a red triangle in that corner. A small white banner at the bottom reads ‘Action for Happiness.’

When I got that on Thursday morning, I actually took a moment to think about the fact that I’m good at remembering everyone’s schedule and that I was happy with the drawing I had made the night before. Without the prompt, I still would have known those things but I probably wouldn’t have taken the moment to consider them and I would have missed out on that feeling of satisfaction.

I’m looking forward to a whole month of being bossed into moments of happiness.

I think it will be really good for my brain and that has to be good for the rest of me too, right?

PS: If this kind of calendar seems vaguely familiar, it’s because I wrote about them before.

habits · meditation · mindfulness

Day 999 of My Meditation Streak: When the Mind Chatter Surrenders to What Is

Tiny seated Buddha on a green leaf
Samuel Austin on Unsplash

I sit down on my meditation cushion for day 999 of my current meditation streak. This particular cushion is a stack of two stained decorative pillows on a day bed in an Airbnb in Montreal, where I’m staying with my mother, the first time I’ve seen her since the beginning of the pandemic. The mind chatter starts right in:

Why do I never get any credit for my accomplishments? I’m so tired of these people who tell me that their daily activities are “meditations”—running, gardening, whatever. Last night it was counting stitches in knitting and something about watching sports and managing frustration. Meanwhile, here I am putting in the work of sitting down every single solitary day. Oh right, you call that work? Okay, yeah, it’s most often only for 10 minutes. Exactly, I don’t know what you are even pleased with yourself about? Can everyone just stop taking my meditation away from me with all their fake-itations?! Whoa. Hold on a minute. Who’s the fraud in this scenario? That’s a lot of me-me-me-notice-me about a meditation. Holy antithesis. Is that why you meditate, for the credit? Also, when did you become the Académie Française of meditation, the anointed-one-from-on-high who gets to define what counts as a meditation? Also, also, who the fuck cares what other people are doing? What does that have to do with your meditation? When did meditation become a competitive sport? Also, also, also, juvenile!

Time out. Can everyone take a breath? I hear all of you. But if we pause, can you feel how it doesn’t matter? Can you see how people might be talking about their meditative practices to connect with you, not to diminish you? And, news flash, you do a good enough job diminishing your own self. You don’t need anyone else’s help with that. Plus, a reminder, tuning into this chatter and letting it flow through and away is your practice. Good job. I mean it. Well done.

Just there, did you feel that moment of peace? The way it arrived like a comforting weighted blanket? Aah. That feels good. Let all people call whatever they want their meditation.

Fine.

Wait. Wake up. Enough with the I’m-so-zen, have you forgotten what’s happening today? Oh man, what the hell am I doing with my life, starting a new 10-month training course in Non-Violent Communication? It’s too late. I’m too old. I’ll never finish. When will I be a grown up? I’m in way over my head. How about the monthly travel to Canada from the US? All the documentation. Every time. For what? No one is ever going to hire me. Why are you even doing this? And don’t even give me that over-earnest answer, to make a contribution. Cue the violins. It’s the same as with your meditation. Do you really want to contribute or do you want to be seen to be contributing? Grandiosity.

Okay, I’m calling a time out again. This is not advice, just a suggestion. Surrender. Seriously, I mean it. You know (know-know, in that cellular way) that this course is the right thing for you, for how you want to be in the world. That’s enough. You don’t have to waste time doubting yourself. I know you feel like you need to fight this with doubt. But you really don’t have to. You can just be with what is.

 …

Did you hear that?

I felt it—silence resonating in my mind-body. It was only a few seconds. That’s enough, isn’t it? Yes.

 …

The gong sounds, bringing my meditation to a close. I open my eyes and look out at the green hill of Mont Royal, visible from my aerie. I was running up there not more than an hour ago, enlivened with the joy of movement. Spaciousness fills me again. I am light, yet grounded, centered, fluid and strong. I am ready for breakfast with my mother and then back-to-school. How fitting. 

Also, I did make it to Day 1000 of my meditation streak the next day–this is the log on my Insight Timer app
ADHD · fitness · habits · mindfulness · self care

Don’t Hold Your Breath, Christine

No, I’m not being snarky with myself here. I’m not stuck waiting for something that will never happen. I’m literally reminding myself not to hold my breath when I’m trying to focus.

Do you do that too? Or is it an ADHD thing?

Either way, it’s no fun. I’ll be trying to work on something and I won’t realize that I have been holding my breath until I catch myself sighing as I exhale. It’s not a good feeling and it involves a lot of unnecessary tension and I really want to stop doing it.

And in the course of figuring out how to break the habit, I’ve started by just being more conscious of when I might hold my breath and trying to stop myself earlier. But I have also been doing some research into different breathing videos and techniques. I figure that if I can practice breathing in more beneficial ways then I can not only stop holding my breath but I can replace my ineffective technique (holding my breath) with one that serves me better.

I mean, even if it doesn’t work, I get to spend some time breathing slowly and chilling out. There’s no downside to that.

So far, I have discovered that I really like having a visual element instead of just audio because it engages more of my brain so I can focus with more ease. (You know, so I don’t end up holding my breath while I practice breathing.)

Here are a few of the useful things I’ve found:

I’m not particularly anxious at the moment but I’ve still found these breathing GIFs for anxiety pretty good.

And I’m a fan of this video:

A video called ‘Deep Breathing Exercise = 2x The Anxiety Relief.’

And I find box breathing very relaxing:

A video called ‘Box breathing relaxation technique: how to calm feelings of stress or anxiety’

And if you are into breathing in shapes, this is adorable!

A video called ‘Deep Breathing with Shapes- Coping Skills for Kids’

In addition to playing around with all of these videos and GIFs, I have been reading James Nestor’s book Breath and I plan to talk about it on an upcoming post. I’m not sure exactly when that will happen yet, though, so don’t hold your breath on that one. (Ha!)

Do you have any breathing videos or techniques to recommend? What do you use them for? What do you like about them?

fitness · mindfulness · motivation

What happens when you meditate for 60 days straight and then miss day 61?

SPOILER: the answer is, “nothing much”. If you have more time to read, check out the details below.

I’ve been using the Ten Percent Happier app and loving it. I’ve also gotten hooked on the milestones feature.

Listing of daily, weekly and session milestones. I’m at 450 sessions, 50 weeks, and 60 days. Until Monday…

I went to Cape Elizabeth Maine for the weekend with friends to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a friend’s 50th birthday (for which we had planned a trip in 2020 which– obvs– didn’t happen). I used the app each morning for wake-up mediation.

In the waking up section, there are loads of meditations to do either while still in bed (my choice) or upon first getting out of bed.

When I went home, the next morning I slept late, and didn’t do the wake-up app. I lazed around, watching tv and playing on my computer. Didn’t get around to proper sitting meditation. By the time I was thinking of turning in (and picking a sleep-easier meditation), it was past midnight.

OH NO!

Listing of my last four weeks of meditations, with one day missing-- Sunday! Argh!
Listing of my last four weeks of meditations, with one day missing– Sunday! Argh!

I had just reached the 60-day milestone, too, and was looking forward to chugging along to 70. Now I had to start all over again. Grrr. Argh.

It felt…. uh, how did it feel?

After the fussing and fretting passed, it didn’t feel like much of anything. I wasn’t numb or paralyzed, or deflated, just… there.

Wow.

Today, I woke up and decided to do a sitting meditation. It would’ve been day 62 in a row, but instead was day 1 in a row. How did it feel to start over? Honestly, it didn’t feel any different– just like, well, meditation.

Wow again.

Why wow? Because unlike most things I do, where I don’t like tracking numbers (we wrote about fitness tracking recently here), I really got into tracking my meditation practice. Why? Because developing a practice means doing something habitually– often, regularly, consistently. Consistency is not my strong suit, but I’m drawn to the idea of creating the conditions for stillness and quiet in my body and mind each day. So I’ve been meditating regularly, several days a week, for the past year, using my mediation app to keep track.

The thing is, once I noticed I was racking up the weeks and days in a row, I started getting attached to those numbers. Each day or so I’d check my milestones menu, looking ahead to the next goal. Is this a bad thing? No. But attachment comes with disappointment when goals aren’t met. And I didn’t meet a goal.

But the funny thing is– my body and mind were like, oh yeah, I guess we forgot that one. Hmmm, do we want a banana? And then the next day, I just sat down and meditated. Again. As one does when one is developing a meditation practice.

There’s a huuuuge literature on mediation and attachment, about which I know very little. But a quick takeway is that when we get attached to things or people or outcomes, we can become less happy, more anxious, and (importantly) lose the connection to ourselves in this moment.

Whether it’s meditation, cycling, yoga, swimming, writing, or whatever activity you want to make a regular and solid part of your life, having goals and plans and schedules are important. So is realizing that goals aren’t always met, plans sometimes go awry (love that word!), and schedules occasionally get broken. Whatcha gonna do then?

Get up the next day, get back to the practice, and do the thing.

Although I’m still a little bummed about not being on a 62-day streak, today is really about my one-day streak. As it is every day.

Hey readers– how do you deal with interrupted streaks of whatever? Does it throw you off your game? Do you just keep on truckin’? I’d really like to hear what your experience is here. If you’d like to share…

habits · mindfulness · self care

The Art of Flouranguishing: How Time and Space Help Me Feel Better

Flouranguishing: the state of simultaneously flourishing and languishing (see also: being human)

Recently a number of my friends circulated an article about the blah many of us currently feel as COVID drags on. The author named the sensation as languishing. Even as we get vaccinated, so much still seems risky or is outright closed off to us. We aren’t quite depressed, but we aren’t quite happy. We are in the doldrums. Sigh. Some days I languish more than others. Yesterday, for example, halfway through breakfast, out of the blue, I was afflicted with a deep sense of oh-what’s-the-point. As the day progressed, I started to perk up, but I could still feel the layer of languish in the background.

Because, generally, despite all during this pandemic, I feel like I’m flourishing (about which I feel some guilt and self-consciousness and even shame—because, how dare I flourish during these dark times, doesn’t that just indicate I’m an entitled, selfish so-and-so?).

The pandemic’s Zoomification of our world made it possible for me to start training toward a certification in Non-Violent Communication (maybe … I’m not 100% committed to the certification process yet, as I write this the sign-up page for the next phase is open in my browser).. NVC then led me to some Internal Family Systems training. I have discovered new ways of working and being. I’m exhilarated every time I uncover yet more ways in which NVC and IFS connect into and inform the work I was already doing (workshops on emotional intelligence, among other things). Athena Casey recently interviewed me for The Intolerance Podcast, which gave me a great chance to synthesize this understanding for myself. Talking with her got me excited all over again about this path I’m on.

Except … for the days when I wonder why I thought it was a good idea to add in a whole different discipline at well into my fifties; and further wonder whether all this curiosity can actually lead where I want it to lead, or whether I’m just an eternal dilettante, destined to pedal as hard as I can, but never go anywhere, a stationary bike I can’t get off. Uh oh. Languishing again.

Then, I perk up. Again. A friend recently mentioned that when we are low about the future, it is helpful to simply change the time horizon. That is certainly true for me. When I look forward a year or further, I can see where I’d like to be, but not how to get there. That’s a languisher, for sure. But when I shorten the time horizon to, say, the next two days, I’m looking at a 2.5-day NVC workshop on gratitude and I know it’s going to be fantastic and I’m going to love it. That’s a flourisher.

Back and forth. Again.

Oh, and that’s not all. There has been other flourishing, too. In response to the languishing article, another friend sent a piece about flourishing during the pandemic, which pointed out a bunch of ways we might discover new richness in our lives these past months. One was connecting with friends and family in a different rhythm. Well, that’s happened for me, too. Pre-pandemic, I was in regular communication with my mother via text, but we virtually never talked on the phone. I’m a phone-o-phobic, so I’ve never been good about calling. Now? –we are having long Zoom confabs twice a month. Sometimes my two brothers join, one of my sisters-in-law and some nieces and nephews. We’ll have New York, Calgary, London (Ontario) and the other London (UK) all together. I’m also zooming with friends in other cities and countries, with whom I was only sketchily in touch before. An IRL friend recently asked me why I was still doing friend-zooms. Why would I stop? I’ve made space for them in my life. Why would I want to diminish the joys of being more in touch with geographically distant friends?

Because, it turns out we can use space, just as we used time, to alchemize some flourish out of languish. Here’s a Zen story:

A student of Zen came to their teacher and asked her how they could learn to feel less frustrated and angry and sad and disappointed. They wanted to know how to calm their pervasive anxiety and sometime depression. The Zen teacher asked the student to bring her a teaspoon of salt. When the student came back, the teacher presented the student with a beautiful, clear glass of water and asked them to mix the salt into the water and drink.

“Pthaugh. Yuck,” the student said, spitting out the salty water. “How is that going to help me?”

The teacher then invited the student to get another teaspoon of salt and meet her down at the lake. At the lakeshore, the teacher asked the student to mix the spoonful of salt into the lake, then fill their glass with the lake water and drink it (this is the land of Zen myth, the lakes are unpolluted, pure and potable).

“Aah. Delicious,” the student said. “But … ??”

“Your mind is a glass of water. Now, make it a lake.” 

I already mentioned how we can change time to our advantage. Well, it turns out we can fiddle with space, too. Gratitude, for example, is a huge space maker. For me, if I can make my mind a lake, I make room to access the flourish-nutrients available just from noticing what is going well and being grateful. I’ve stayed healthy, so far. I have continued to run and mountain bike and ski and spin and Pilates and, and … The spring cherry blossoms were fat and fabulous this year. My partner and I celebrated 27 years together.    

Flouranguishing is the art of being present to our humanness. We are rarely all one thing. And we are certainly not a duality either. We do not languish OR flourish. We are rarely (if ever) experiencing one single emotion, one unique condition of being. We live in a soup of simultaneous states. How we use time and space determines which ingredients dominate.

Here’s the constant that I’m trying to work with right now. I have the power to choose what flavours I focus on in the soup. Languishing may feel like it is imposed on me from the outside, due to circumstances beyond my control (the pandemic, the inherent uncertainty of the future). Yet, I can still make the choice to focus my attention on what’s flourishing. As hard as it may seem at times, I want to be present with what is good, right now. To be grateful, even and especially for the smallest things. To engage with life. None of this is to say that I’m pushing the languish away, or compartmentalizing. No. I recognize and even honour the languish. At the same time, I set the intention to notice the flourish.

Running this morning, my body was so tired. I heard out the part of me who was exasperated with my exhaustion. In fact, there was a pretty extended discussion between the various voices in my head about whether I should cut my run short. But then I picked my eyes up off the pavement and noticed what a beautiful morning it was, how good the air felt on my skin and remembered that the only measure of success that mattered today on my run was pleasure. So, when the option to abridge my route came up, I ran right past. I wanted to stay with the trees in all their fresh green. And, when I made that choice, my body suddenly felt more ease, the run more fluid.

Another day, the choice to shorten my run will be the one that resonates for my body and grants ease. My work is to listen for when a decision is about languishing and when about flourishing. With time and space at my disposal, I have powerful tools to support my intention to savor the flavour of flourish.

mindfulness · motivation

Exercise & Creativity

Tomorrow, April 21, is the UN’s World Creativity and Innovation Day – a celebration of the role that creativity plays in problem solving.

Creativity is beneficial for its own sake, of course. Not only is creativity enjoyable, but the mindfulness and presence required helps us to relax and to focus. It feels good to get in a creative ‘zone.’

And since the abilities that we hone in creative practice are helpful for solving problems, our creativity is also good for the world.

A photo of a tree and a path in the foreground and a vista of water, hills and trees in the background. Overlaid text reads 'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.  - Albert Einstein'
I quote this at least once a week to someone. It’s an excellent argument practicing creative thinking. Image description: A photo of a tree and a path in the foreground and a panoramic of water, hills and trees in the background. Overlaid text reads ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein’

Since exercise can improve our concentration immediately after a workout and it increase our capacity for creative thinking, exercising can directly contribute to your ability to think creatively and solve problems.

And now that you know that Wednesday is World Creativity and Innovation Day, you can also think of your workout tomorrow as a warm-up for any creativity activity or problem solving you have to do. (And, as Sam reminds us, warm-ups are very important.)

Lots of people swear that going for a walk helps them to be more creative and think of new solutions to the challenges that they face.

But, if walking isn’t your thing, any sort of moderate exercise seems to help so choosing your favourite exercise can help you prepare to be part of creative problem solving tomorrow.

Adriene even has a practice that may help you:

Have you found a connection between your exercise plan and your creativity and problem solving abilities?

Tell us about it in the comments!

PS – If you ALREADY have a creative practice in place, here are a few stretching programs I found that can help keep you feeling good physically while you think creatively.

Here’s a Dr. Jo video showing some hand, wrist, neck & shoulder exercises for artists.
And here’s a video showing some specific hand exercises for artists and animators.
And this is one of my favourite Yoga with Adriene videos – Yoga for Writers
mindfulness

The Marvelous Ms. Mina Show

There’s a voice in my head that encourages me to get out for my run, or ride or, in this season, a cross-country ski. You’ll have fun, she says. And even if it’s not fun today, she assures me that I’ll feel better for having done it. She’s pretty much always right. There’s another voice in my head, which tells me that I’m out of shape and slow and why bother. Sigh. I hear her, all too well, even though she’s mostly wrong.

Yet another voice tells me that I’d feel better if I just had that cute long sleeve base layer in black and mint green that I saw in the ski shop.

These voices are cast members in the long running television series going on inside my head.

Vintage television against checkered wallpaper
Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

I’ve made a cast list:

(note: each distinct character—such as BFC- and BFC+—has a dual, yet integrated and whole, nature and should be played by a single performer, with distinguishing costume elements. Triple asterisks separate each double-faceted character)

Bad Fairy Critic (BFC-)—a generalist, who will criticize anything and everything from my body to my intelligence, to my fundamental worth … AND

Bountiful Fairy Creator (BFC+)—who supports me with empathy and gentle guidance.

***

Fat Face—my inner judge, who is named after the judge in Toad of Toad Hall, a character I played in a grade school production, and who judges me and others, and then judges me for judging others … AND

Agnes—a source of wisdom and discernment, a woman we might have called a witch in times past. She is also organized and practical. She gets shit done. Her name comes from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, an epic, feminist art installation with names of 1038 women of herstory and myth.  The name Agnes showed up multiple times and grabbed my attention.

***

Doña Q—she specializes in delusions of grandeur, followed by vicious re-education sessions to set me straight about my puny capabilities and potential … AND 

Geneviève—my inner voice of compassion and the divine, my superheroine. 

***

Kaitie—she wonders, why bother with anything? You’re just going to end up with wormy chocolate and unwilling visitors who think you are a batty cat lady … AND

Gigi—the Good Girl who does her homework (and workouts) and even the supplementary readings and post workout stretches. She keeps on keeping on.

***

You-Are-Not-Enough—she is the messenger with a trumpet. Hear ye, hear ye, all ye who enter abandon hope of ever being whole, you will never be up to it, no matter what it is… AND

I Am Enough—she isn’t complacent, just assured and at ease, humble, yet also respects her own gifts.

***

Tiffany—she is constantly yearning for that one more perfect piece of clothing that will make her feel whole and cure all the past hurts caused by not fitting in … AND

Audrey—she feels satiated and plentiful, not to mention kickass, when she’s wearing a favourite pair of boots (green velvet!) or piece of clothing (midnight blue silk shirt!).

***

As you’ve no doubt noticed, every character had two sides to her personality—a destructive, bull-in-a-china shop aspect and a creative, you-go-girl aspect. Depending on the day, one or the other will have all the lines and the other one won’t be in the episode at all.

I wondered if I was getting carried away with this naming business and anthropomorphizing the voices in my head. Then I signed up for a workshop in Internal Family Systems. Turns out I was onto something. IFS calls this cast of characters our parts. And it’s not just me, we all have our own personal television series. But it takes time and intention to tune into the right channel. And not just get to know them, but befriend them. Because all of them have our best interests at heart, even if they seem to be toxic.

I’m still in the very early stages of tuning in. But even the bit of bandwidth I’ve gotten access to with this cast list has been enormously helpful. When one of the destroyers starts up with a vicious monologue, I’m learning that being gentle can be an effective Jedi mind trick. If I listen to her, instead of trying to mute her, this softens her edge and can even coax her twin creator personality out of hiding. Well, that’s helpful! When Kaitie is on a trash talking spree about how lousy my cross-country skiing is in the current series episode, I thank her for caring about my skills. Saying thanks presses the pause button on Kaitie’s diatribe. Gigi then takes the moment of silence as an invitation to chime in about how great it is that I’m out on the snow.

Sometimes, I can’t immediately identify who is flaming me. But the very act of trying to discern which cast member is speaking, slows down the action enough to flip the script to the creator. Does it work every time? Nope. Still, having the cast of characters perspective, creates a lot more distance between me and the voices in my head. I get less overwhelmed and sometimes one of them even makes me laugh with a particularly preposterous, over-the-top harangue. The script writer has quite an imagination.

In today’s episode, Gigi got me out for my regular ski workout and BFC+ offered empathy when I was resisting sitting down to write this.

Who are your favourite characters in the series of your life?